Aredain. The Land of Story and Song, as the singers call it. At one point the moniker was well earned, as Aredain was the birthplace of chivalry, where noble knights jousted one another in tourneys and courted fair maidens in rose gardens, where mighty castles once reached for the clouds, where noble heroes walked alongside elves, dwarves, and beasts in harmony with one another. Never was there a realm more suitable for story and song than noble Aredain, though that was a long, long time ago.
Aredain of today is a sorrier sight; a realm divided by centuries of war, strife, distrust, and disunity. The Third Era has not been kind to Aredain as it has been with other realms; the neighboring frontier of Fryslon has only grown in prominence in the recent decades, while Remes can afford to languish in its old glories in relative peace even as its empire remains fractured and divided. Most of Aredain is still enacting the civil war that broke the realm in the first place and it seems that it won’t end anytime soon.
Aredain wasn’t always a realm divided in civil war. Its origins date back to the First Era, when the Elves first began to settle the continent of Altherys from across the land bridge leading to the Undying Lands. In the early years of the First Era the region was largely unsettled; its only inhabitants being various Satyr tribes who kept to the forests and prairies to its south. The first Elf settlers there came to appreciate the massive oak, pine, and fir trees that dotted the great forests of the realm, and so took to creating a vast kingdom of their own, which they named Aryaavaden.
The region had largely remained quiet for the most part until the erupting of the great conflict known as the Second Kin War. This war, a conflict between the Wood Elf and Sand Elf empires, was one that stretched across the entire continent and did not end until the Sand Elf empire was broken and its peoples scattered across the four winds. This conflict largely divided the realms of Elvenkind in Altherys, as many were at odds as to whether or not the destruction was justified. It was enough of a division that when the Drow-Ice Elves-of Drogoroth Glacier began invading Aryaavaden from the north they found themselves cut off from the rest of the Wood Elves.
Luckily, according to legend, King Koryn, the Last Raven King, united his people with the Gray Elves of the Stonewall Mountains, the Dwarves of Dagurn’s Deep, and the Duskhoof Satyrs in an alliance against the greater host of the Drow, though in the final battle he was slain and his dynasty died with him. As a result of his actions the kingdom of Aryaavaden found itself largely cut off from the chaos that defined the end of the First Era, where it was said the slaves of the ancient Elf empires revolted against their masters and drove them to their deepest sanctuaries.
The Second Era proved to be much more profitable for the Wood Elves of Aryaavaden than it was for any other Elven people. From across the sea to the west came host after host of Humans aboard fleets of ships; refugees from the sunken island kingdom of Tyrenmor, said to have been destroyed in a nameless catastrophe. While most of the Elves of other realms remained aloof or openly stood against the human invaders to their lands, the Wood Elves had learned of the prudence of alliances with other races. They came to the refugees with open arms, food, and shelter rather than with spears and arrows, and in return the Tyrenmorians offered themselves in their care. These would later integrate themselves fully into the Wood Elves’ society, their nobles’ intermarrying with the Elves, and later producing the long-lived Aredani ethnicity of humans. These humans would create a kingdom of their own alongside the Wood Elves, calling it Aredain; a Tyrenesation of Aryaavaden.
Alas, this peace would not last. Near the end of the Second Era, during the time period referred to as the Goblin Wars, a great darkness began to form in the area known as the Ebon Marches. From this darkness came the Sorcerer King, a powerful warrior and practitioner of the Dark Arts, who led an army of the dead and the damned against the kingdoms of Aredain and Aryaavaden. In his swiftness he sacked the city of Tynthalos, the capital of Aredain, murdering its king and his line within a single night. Within that same year he nearly did the same for the Wood Elves, succeeding in destroying their old capital and defiling their great sanctuary of Kormount, the tomb of the Raven King. Though he was defeated at the very same mountain the damage he did was done, for both Wood Elf and Aredani blamed one another for the Sorcerer King and the damage he had caused. Aredain fractured into a civil war it would never recover while the Wood Elves refused to provide aid, closing themselves off in their forest home of the Duskwood. By the coming of the Third Era this has not changed.
Today, Aredain is considered a fractured realm; united only by its common history and traditions while divided nearly everywhere else. Most of the human half of the realm is now composed largely of petty kingdoms and independent city-states, all distrustful of one another. The Wood Elves of Aryaavaden continue to bar the Duskwood from all but the most necessary of travelers, and those outside of its wooded boughs have come to distrust the Elves nearly as much as they distrust the wayward humans that were once their allies. Many places in the countryside still lie in ruin from the great civil war that broke the land, while the petty kingdoms still squabble over who has most claim to the region, with many having forgotten why their civil war even erupted in the first place.
The Realm of Aredain is cut into three largely independent realms:
- The Free Cities – Along the Traitor Coast and further south, the Thirteen Free Cities stand apart of the rest of the chaos and quarrels of Aredain. Home to some of the oldest and most prosperous settlements of the Tyrenmorian refugees of old, these cities were the first to recover from the chaos of the Second Era but have remained free of the squabbling that defines the Petty Kingdoms eastwards. Most of these are republics, ruled by a group of nobility that make decisions for the cities in a way that favors the people, though at least a few are ruled by a single king or liege lord. The Free Cities reside throughout the Traitor Coast south of the Wyrmtooth Mountains, and as such are often targets for Fryss Marauders and Reavers. Despite their shared name each of the Free Cities are fiercely independent of one another, and rivalries between them are common.
- The Petty Kingdoms – East of the Free Cities and covering most of Aredain’s arable land are the Petty Kingdoms, the last remnant of whatever is left of that ancient kingdom of proud Aredani and Half-Elves. The Petty Kingdoms often change hands with one another, constantly squabbling over territory and fighting for minor glories. The term ‘lambs becoming lions‘ often applies to these kingdoms, as every now and again a new kingdom will form under the guidance of one who would unite his fellows against the supposed tyranny of the rest of the region, only to steadily fall from grace and mimic the other kingdoms just as surely as their former liege lords did. Despite their constant squabbling they are still Aredani at heart, and will occasionally unite under a common cause, be it the deposing of a particularly ruthless warlord or to fight back an invasion. They have become incredibly suspicious of Elves over the period, as even the common folk blame the Wood Elves for not saving them from the constant torment of civil war like in the old stories.
- The Duskwood – The large heart of Aredain, the Duskwood covers a vast expanse of the realm and is home to both the Kingdom of Aryaavaden and its ‘petty kingdom’ allies that surround the Duskwood proper. Despite their own grievances against humanity for allowing the Sorcerer King to defile their lands, the Wood Elves have not forgotten the prudence of alliances. As such they hold puppet states across its borders to act as buffers against the rest of the Petty Kingdoms that plague the realm. These realms behave much like the old kingdom that had existed before, albeit with much more control on the Wood Elves’ part, which has caused an immense distrust between them and the rest of Aredain. The Wood Elves largely keep to themselves, and it is assumed by many that they are falling into the depression of other Elves; reminiscing over past glories and dreaming of power no longer quite theirs.
Many races call Aredain their home, be they natives since before the First Era or fairly recent in terms of their arrival. They are as follows:
- Wood Elves – Calling themselves Sylverynglad in their native tongue, the Wood Elves of Aryaavaden have ruled Aredain to an extent for nearly two eras now, though they are now largely kept within the Duskwood. There are some Wood Elves that occasionally depart from their native lands into the rest of Aredain – these are usually the young and brash seeking adventure, though on occasion an ambassador or two is sent to some of the less war-like of the Petty Kingdoms and to the Free Cities. Wood Elves of this region of the world are unique in that they are less arrogant and haughty than their fellows and are open to companionship with the other races, which is why most Half-Elves in Altherys tend to have a Wood Elf parent. Wood Elves tend to have darker hair and metallic-colored eyes in various shades of yellow-gold or brown, and are much more in tune with nature due to their choice of homeland.
- Aredani – The proud race of men whose ancestors found salvation among the Wood Elves, the Aredani are known for having at least some Elven blood within their veins. This has extended their lifespan to longer than most humans and increased the chance of magic users being born among them. Many still follow the proud culture and heritage of their people, though due to the constant struggles of the Petty Kingdoms and intermingling with both Remesian and Fryss immigrants many among them have become distrustful of other races like their fellow humans. They are known for their darker hair and lithe, almost naturally athletic stature, and occasionally some are born with pointed ears (this is especially true for those born with talent in the Arcane).
- Bronze Dwarves – Called Boroznduar in their native tongue, Bronze Dwarves commonly wander the roads of Aredain in large numbers; usually traveling in caravans seeking trade and work or otherwise settling in makeshift villages and nomadic camps that travel with the seasons. Considered to be the most common race of Dwarf, Bronze Dwarves suffer from lacking any real sense of hearth or home and often travel in a sense of permanent melancholy. Most are treated as second-class citizens by other races, including fellow Dwarves, though they are often sought after for cheap labor and for their craftsmanship whenever they can be found. Bronze Dwarves have an almost unhealthy-looking tone of bronzed skin and tend to have less hair than their mountain kin. They are considered to be the tallest among Dwarves, standing half a head taller than their closest kin, the Iron Dwarves, due to generations of living on the surface.
- Mountain Orcs – More like the Goblins that came before them, Mountain Orcs have lived for many years along the few passes of the Icespine Mountains that they can still control, and mostly reside within the cursed Ebon Marches region. Still largely relying on raiding and pillaging, Mountain Orcs are considered more of a nuisance than a threat, though they have been known to gather in vast numbers wherever possible. Some consider them to be a subspecies of Pale Orc due to their paler skin, though this has been contested by more than a few scholars.
- Duskhoof/Pinehorn Satyrs – The only races of Beastfolk that call native Aredain their home, the Duskhooves have wandered through Aredain’s thickets for centuries, while the Pinehorns were driven eastward by the encroaching Elf and Human empires during the First and Second Eras. Both have cordial relationships with the Wood Elves, especially the Duskhooves who have been permitted the use of their sacred sites in the forests in return for being loyal subjects to Aryaavaden. Pinehorn tribes tend to keep to the eastern and southern fringes of the realm where there are still largely wilder places and frontiers where few others can settle. The Duskhooves travel openly throughout the Duskwood, perhaps the only non-Elves allowed to do so, often acting as a first line of defense for the Wood Elves when necessary. Both are characterized by their darker, grayish-brown fur, and Duskhoof horns tend to curve backwards and downwards towards their spine while Pinehorn horns curve slightly forwards and have an extra point, almost like a pair of antlers.
- Half-Breeds – Half-breed races are fairly common in Aredain compared to the other realms, and are treated differently depending on which region they are found. Some are treated with indifference, but most find themselves persecuted by both their parent races wherever they go due to being only half of what they are and half of something undesirable. Despite this many half-breeds from both Fryslon and Remes come to Aredain seeking sanctuary, as the region is still much more tolerable and even supportive of Half-Breed races than the other two. The largest group of Half-Breeds that can be found in Aredain are Half-Elves, with Fauns and Half-Orcs coming at a close second.