(iv) The Changeless World
So it was that the world of Erâth ceased to change, and began a period of some three thousand years in which the lives of men continued on as they always had done. The knowledge of the powers of Erâth slowly began to fade, and creatures of Darkness were forgotten. The Namirèn and the Duithèn lost their face to men, and were known merely as death and darkness. Soon, men no longer referred to these races rightly, and they became myth.
The Sarâthen, too, faded from the memory of men, and were forgotten entirely, while the Illuèn, who continued to dwell in Thaeìn, had no longer any contact with men, and were forgotten also. Tales of magical beings of light became legend, and soon no one in Thaeìn could remember whether these tales had ever once been true. The race of men turned ever inward to itself, and grew no more.
This is not to say the Third Age of Erâth was uneventful. The pivotal events at the end of the Third Age notwithstanding, men did not stop pushing the borders of themselves or the world around them. Changelessness acted more as a barrier, protecting men from themselves, but allowed them freedom to do as they willed without consequences that could change the fate of the world.
It is important to note that, due to the nature of Changelessness, the men of Thaeìn were not strictly aware of the greater passage of time. Thus it was that, though they had an understanding of the time of day and the time of year, no calendar was kept in all their lands. Consequently, it is difficult to know when various events occurred during this Age. Approximations will be given, knowing that certain events transpired before or after others.
The Voyage of Barthòl
One of the most important events of the early Third Age was the discovery of Changelessness by the people of Erârün. This brought a sudden and new understanding of the world to men, which spread rapidly throughout the kingdoms of Thaeìn. What is odd is that, as the Sarâthen imposed a limit on Changelessness such that it would cease to exist should men ever become aware of it, men in fact were comforted by the discovery instead. In finding that they could not find newness in the world, they saw an answer to the pervading darkness that ran through their people. They did not question what they found, but accepted it, for men had begun to no longer ask questions of the world at all.
Within a few hundred years of the War of Darkness, the kingdom of Erârün found itself struck by hunger and illness. Under the rule of the line of Farath they had not flourished. They had not the mastery of the land such as the neighboring kingdom of Kiriün, and without trade between the two, the people of Erârün began slowly to starve.
Inspired by the people’s strife, and drawing on the legend of lands of men beyond the seas, a man called Barthòl, a lord of Erârün, took it upon himself to set out on a voyage to discover these lands if he could. The people of Erârün had not travelled by sea for many hundreds of years, bar the small fishing communities that dotted the coasts, and so the construction of an ocean vessel that held fifty men and provisions for months was an exceptional endeavor. Many claimed it was madness, and Barthòl’s own wife despaired of seeing him again.
In the face of such opposition, Barthòl set off nonetheless, heading due East for what he believed would be green and wild land. He expected the journey to last some weeks, if not months, and his crew fared well for many days at sea. Gradually, though, Barthòl came to notice the seas becoming ever blacker, and the small fish that could be seen swimming below gave way to larger, more menacing creatures.
His crew were fearful, but the creatures did not attack their ship, and Barthòl assured them they would find what they sought. He was not wrong; after three weeks at sea, they did indeed sight land, and soon they took their first steps onto a new country. As they made their way inland, however, they were surprised to find the land was already inhabited by men not unlike themselves. Word spread throughout the country of the arrival from the West of strange men, and the armies of the land soon descended upon them, and behold – they were the men of Kiriün that faced them!
Barthòl knew he had not strayed from his course, and in traveling due East, had in fact arrived in the West of Thaeìn. This discovery would change the perception of the world for all men, but for Barthòl, the revelation was short-lived; he was now trespassing in a land that had sworn never to suffer the men of Erârün.
The War of Two Hundred Years
The king of Kiriün was intrigued to discover how men of Erârün had come to be on their western shores, and it was perhaps by this curiosity that Barthòl and his men were not put to death immediately. Yet the king would not grant them passage to Erârün, and deemed they should remain prisoners of Kiriün until the ending of their lives.
Word soon reached Erârün that a host of their men had been captured by Kiriün, and the lord of Erârün, Haldé, sent forth messages to the king of Kiriün regarding the identity of their captives, and demanding their release. Kiriün’s king, Giléud, told Haldé only of Barthòl’s coming, and that their law prohibited the release of captives of Erârün, and indeed he was already in breach of that law by permitting them to live.
Unrest grew in Erârün as the news of Barthòl’s capture spread, and Kiriün found its wall, separating them from Erârün, under attack from small groups of men from the East. Soon, these attacks grew more frequent and more effective, and as each year went by without the release of Barthòl and his men, the war between the two kingdoms of men grew ever nearer.
Eventually, Haldé sent word to Giléud that if the prisoners were not released, they would face open war from the kingdom of Erârün. Giléud said to Haldé to come with all his might if he would, and the War of Two Hundred Years was begun.
Over the course of the following two hundred and twenty-three years, Erârün persisted in waging war against Kiriün, who retaliated in kind, and of course neither kingdom was ever triumphant. The fiercest battles raged in the first twenty years of the War, with many casualties on both sides, and the Wall of Kiriün nearly brought down several times. Kiriün held its defenses through strength of will; their kingdom was not so poor in provisions as Erârün, and could sustain their soldiers well. Erârün, for their part, continued their assault in spite of the famine that spread further through their lands, drawing heavily on the already over-worked farmers and laborers. Erârün had always been more populous than Kiriün, and found through strength of numbers to will to continue their assault.
The War lasted long beyond the lives of Haldé and Giléud, and Barthòl died in the prisons of Kiriün, and his wife, stricken with grief and despair at the violence a journey of such hope had wrought, took her children and left Erârün, and eventually found herself in Consolation, where she lived in sadness to the end of her days.
After the passing of many scores of years, countless battles and untold deaths, the people of Kiriün and Erârün found they could no longer remember the cause for their war; each knew only that they were in battle against the other, and it soon became a war of retaliation, with each new assault becoming the reason for the next one.
Eventually, of course, the people of each country grew tired of war, and the battles grew ever more infrequent, and bore fewer casualties. The final battle of the War of Two Hundred Years, which saw a thousand men of Erârün advance upon the Wall of Kiriün, defended by some eight hundred men of that land, ended with both armies looking upon each other for many hours and, without an arrow sent flying or a spear thrown, turning on each other and slowly retreating.
So ended the War of Two Hundred Years and once again saw the effect of Changelessness; never before had so long a conflict between two powers ended with no resolution, no change, and no consequence bar the immediate consequences of war itself. The kingdoms of Kiriün and Erârün turned back once more to their own lives, and the War itself was soon lost to the passage of time.
Since its very founding, the Kingdom of Erârün was known across the lands of Thaeìn for mastery of stonecraft. Their towers built from stone and cities carved from mountains were grandest of all the kingdoms of Thaeìn, and their white stone faces were the mark of the greatness of their kingdom.
Some time during the second thousand years of the Third Age, it became known to villagers in the North of Erârün that certain mountain caves were lined with black stone of unusual properties. They found that they could chip the stone from the walls of caves in great sheets, and carry them easily down from the mountain. The stone was easily worked, and could be made into ever smaller sheets, sharpened for cutting, and even pierced, though with great difficulty, without damaging or cracking. Most important, however, was the stone’s strength: a sheet a mere quarter of an inch thick could withstand the shot of an arrow, and would not crack under the heaviest blow of an axe. It also showed a remarkable resistance to heat. Water, placed in a container made of the stone, would not boil, even when thrust wholly into fire.
Thus it earned the name dragonstone, though its provenance was entirely unconnected to the great beasts of the North. Its uses were many, and it quickly spread throughout the kingdom of Erârün, and soon many men were put to work in the labor of mining the caves for this extraordinary material. It was not found easily, and in many caves could only be obtained in the deepest regions, far beneath the mountains. Here dwelt also unnamable creatures that had not seen the light of sun in an Age, and this increased the price of dragonstone also.
So it was that dragonstone became a luxury in Erârün, and the nobility and wealthy lined their dwellings with it, and so a black house in Erârün became a mark of greatness. The towers of Vira Weitor were clad entirely in the dark stone, and was no longer the City of White Stone, though the name did not change.
A use for dragonstone was found also among the soldiers of Erârün, and here it was crafted into armor of extreme strength and durability. A plate of dragonstone weighed less than one of iron or steel, and its resilience was tenfold. They found dragonstone armor could not be shattered by any blade of steel, and pieces of the stone could be easily bound together and were in such a way as flexible as a mail coat. It was even said that a knight of Erârün, clad fully in dragonstone, could stand in a kiln fire and emerge again without a mark or burn.
Erârün thus came to be known for dragonstone, and its armies clad in black armor were a glorious and awesome sight to behold.
Kiriün Opens Her Gates
For many hundreds of years, Erârün continued to harvest the mountains for dragonstone, but it was difficult and cost much, both in money and in lives. All the while, their people became less nourished. Poor families, faced with starvation, would send their sons to labor in the dragonstone mines, knowing they may end their lives there. They grew ever more discontent, and the lord of Erârün knew they could not survive alone much longer. Their farms were poor, and the lands could not provide for all the people of their country.
Meanwhile, the people of Kiriün watched nervously as the armies of Erârün grew in might, strengthened by their impenetrable armor. The war between their two countries had long since been forgotten, for the memories of men during the Third Age was thin, but the king of Kiriün knew of the starvation of the people of Erârün, and knew they saw their own lands, rich in abundance, with envy. He would not invite open war upon his people, and so sent word to the lord of Erârün.
The lord of Erârün knew of the abundance of Kiriün, and hated that they might be subjected to another country’s mercy. Yet he saw that his armies could not sustain a battle against them, in spite of their superior strength, for they had the great Wall of Kiriün to contend with, and the cost of waging so long a war would be more than their kingdom could afford. He therefore answered Kiriün, and consented to meet with their king.
The king of Kiriün was cunning, and would not succor Erârün with charity. He proposed trade, and asked what Erârün could offer their country. He knew, of course, that all Erârün had to offer was in the skill of stonework, and the value of dragonstone. So it was agreed that, each year, Kiriün would grant Erârün a portion of their harvest, in exchange for the export of dragonstone from Erârün, for the fitting of their own army and other uses. The great gates of the Wall of Kiriün were opened to the East, and small parties from each land were permitted, under strict conditions, to pass through.
The lord of Erârün also cunning, however, and would provide Kiriün each year with the most impure dragonstone, of far inferior quality to that used by themselves. He was deceitful, and when Kiriün questioned what they were being offered, said only that it was the best they had been able to uncover that year. Kiriün grew suspicious over this, but did not contest, for they would provide Erârün with only the weakest of their crops. A poor, but balanced trade was thus struck between the two countries, and continued for many hundreds of years.
The Last Love of Erâth
Through all the Ages of Erâth, as long as there had been men, there had been love. It was not persistent, and often would not cross the boundaries of kingdoms, or the turning of an Age. But as bitterly as men hated, so too could they love. Love was of the provenance of the Illuèn, and waxed and waned with their strength. So it was that, in the downfall of an Age, love too fell, and did not often return for many centuries. But over time return it would, and the kingdoms of men would be, for a brief period, the happier for it.
This had been changed by the Sarâthen, though, through the Changelessness of the Third Age. As the Illuèn faded, so did love, and it was soon forgotten in the kingdoms of Kiriün and Erârün. Men would take wives, and women would choose their husbands, not on the depth of their fondness for one another, but on the merits of their strength, their power or their wisdom. Bonds were seldom made between neighbors, and aid was only offered in exchange for aid.
So it was that the Third Age saw the last true love of all the Ages of Erâth. With the opening of the gates of Kiriün, contact was once more made between their peoples, and soldiers of Erârün would, under escort, visit the city of Courerà in that country. It was here that Sarathi, a daughter of the king, found Galdeàr, a soldier of Erârün, and the two found a love deep beyond the measure of the men of the Third Age.
Yet it was from the beginning a doomed love, for the people of these two lands were forbidden to know each other, and trespassing bore the penalty of death. For years, Sarathi would send messages in secret to Galdeàr, could but read and then burn them with regret, as he could not reply without the knowing of his commanders. He began to despair at meeting her ever again, and Sarathi could not give reason to her father why she would not wed any man of Kiriün.
Sarathi bore the pain of her love, never knowing if Galdeàr received her messages, or indeed if were yet alive. She took to traveling, riding great distances to escape her ache, and hoped ever that Galdeàr might one day appear on her horizon.
Galdeàr, his longing for his love growing greater every day, forsook his duties as a soldier of Erârün, and, even knowing the penalty of desertion, left in the night for Kiriün and Sarathi. He traveled long on foot and under cover of darkness, and across the land the soldiers of Erârün knew him and would have captured him if they could. After many weeks, the Wall of Kiriün loomed ahead, and casting off the livery of Erârün, scaled the height of the wall and found himself alone in Kiriün.
Galdeàr then wandered the lands of Kiriün, passing for a traveling peasant, and stayed not long in any one place, but searched ever for Sarathi. Meanwhile, the king of Kiriün grew suspicious of his daughter’s travels, and bade her stay in Courerà. She refused, and so he gave her no choice by confining her to the halls of their great house, and sent word through all the land that, were she to be found outside of Courerà, she should be returned at once. To her in secret, he said that she should be imprisoned for impudence, and would escape execution only by her tie of blood to his line. Distraught, she took then to looking ever eastward toward Erârün from her home, and her hope began to wane. She continued, nonetheless, to send messages into Erârün, hoping that one day she and Galdeàr might yet one day be reunited. She did not know Galdeàr had long since left Erârün, and did not know that it was these very messages that sealed their fate.
After many years, Galdeàr found himself in the city of Courerà, knowing it was here that he and Sarathi had first met, and hoping in the grand city of the king he might yet see her again. He soon learned of her confinement, and sought then to free her, should he die trying. It was in the depth of night that Sarathi looked out of her window, and saw the face of her beloved gazing back at her. In tears she let him in, and embraced in the passion of all their years apart.
Their reunion was to be brief, however. The king of Kiriün had heard of a stranger in the city asking after his kin and his daughter, and had spies follow her and observe her chambers at all hours of the day and night. So it was that, only moments after their first embrace, the king burst into her chamber, sword in hand. The king was keen of mind, and recognized at once a soldier of Erârün that had once been in that very city long ago, and descended in fury upon him. Sarathi beseeched him to show mercy, but he would not hear, and brought his sword down upon Galdeàr, who defended himself with his own blade. Galdeàr was younger than the king, and stronger, but would not slay him. For many moments, the chamber rang with the clash of steel and the cries of battle, and when it was over, the king of Kiriün lay upon the floor, his sword fallen from his hand, Galdeàr standing over him. It was then that Galdeàr wondered at Sarathi’s silence, and turning, saw that she had, during the fight, borne a mortal wound and lay dying upon the floor.
With a scream of agony, he threw down his weapon and held her, in tears, and vowed that they should find one another again, should it take unto the ending of Erâth. Through his tears, she smiled at him, told him of her unending love, and so died in his arms.
Galdeàr wept, and begged the king of Kiriün to kill him where he stood. But the king, overcome with grief and rage, vowed that Galdeàr would suffer all the torment that his kingdom could bring upon him before he would let him escape life. And so for many months Galdeàr was imprisoned and tortured, and in the Spring, weak and broken, he was brought before the people of Kiriün in shackles, denounced as the murderer of the king’s daughter, and executed. But it was with mixed emotion that the people saw the death of Galdeàr, a man not of their country, for with his death they saw also the death of love.
There was never again love in all of Erâth; though men did not hate each other more, nor did they love one another, and the men of Thaeìn did not miss it. Without love there was also less grief, and the darkness of the world seemed more bearable. Only the Illuèn saw the true loss to men, and grieved not just for Sarathi and Galdeàr but for all of mankind.
The Ending of Dreams
Not long after the passing of Sarathi and Galdeàr, and the death of love, came the death of another thing that men did not miss: dreams. Nights that had since the creation of Erâth been filled with sleeping thought became gradually blank, and soon there was not a soul in Thaeìn that had dream or nightmare. No one in all the lands noticed this passing, for dreams are often not remembered, and men had long since forgotten their significance.
The passing of dreams was yet another consequence of Changelessness, for the spark of invention has often come from the unconscious and sleeping mind. With the death of dreams died also ambition, and desire, and hope. Though men did not know it, Sarathi and Galdeàr had been the last two people of the Third Age to believe in something greater than themselves. They knew their love was greater than themselves, and greater than the forces of distance, time and even death that had kept them apart. This knowledge was lost with them, and forgotten to all other men.
It was not long before even the idea of dreams was lost, and men did not question their dark, blank and restless nights. Men began to question less in general, and took for granted the world they lived in. They no longer looked to the sky, or to the horizon, and did not notice the migration of birds, or the blowing of the wind.
It is astonishing what a great effect so small a thing can have; without dreams, men slept, and woke, and worked and rested. With the loss of consideration, men did not even stop to consider why they no longer noticed the world around them. The only time this cloud would be broken was in the birth of children, or the death of kin, and even here the joy and sorrow was subdued.
The Fall of the Line of Starüd
One of the last great events of the Third Age was the end of the line of Starüd, though even this served ultimately to perpetuate Changelessness. For many hundreds of generations, the line of Starüd had ruled the kingdom of Kiriün, lordship passing from son to son throughout the Age. The strength of each king’s rule had varied, but always their line had been fair to the people of Kiriün, and held peace throughout their land.
Their rule was not to last, however, and there came eventually a king of Kiriün who bore no sons. Though he took a wife early in his rule, and reigned for many years, they bore only a single daughter, kind, wise and fair, but a daughter nonetheless. The king, whose name has been lost, lived his final years lost in regret, knowing that he was the last of the line of Starüd. On his deathbed, he spoke both to his wife and his daughter, Sóriana, and bade them continue the rule of Kiriün in his stead.
But his wife was not strong, and Sóriana young, and rule passed instead to her uncle, brother of the king’s wife, and the line of Starüd was ended. This brother had not the wisdom of any of the line of Starüd, and would have made an end of the kingdom were it not for Sóriana. His sister died within a few years of the king, and Sóriana was permitted to live within the royal palace. Though she spent her life in the shadows, she was cunning and surreptitiously wove her counsel into the thoughts of the new king. He would not, of course, listen to her, but she spoke through his aides and counselors, and so the rule of Kiriün was maintained by her.
She wed, and bore a daughter of her own, who lived with her also in the palace. As it transpired, the son of the new king of Kiriün was no wiser than his father, and so the work of maintaining the rule of the kingdom passed to Sóriana’s daughter, Miriana. She had her mother’s wisdom, and boldness all her own, and deigned to speak to the king’s son directly. He was not so proud as his father, and accepted her counsel, and so she became an advisor to the king. Her own daughter followed in her trail, and her daughter also.
While the people of Kiriün grew accustomed to the rule of the new line of kings, through Sóriana, Miriana and their daughters that the line of Starüd was in fact preserved, though this would not be recognized until the end of the Third Age.