The Riven Lands is a working title for a homebrew setting I started drawing up in 1992. It is full of whimsy, wondering and wandering - the seed of the initial piece of map (that is, the starting 8.5 by 11 piece of paper) came from a cartoon I saw as a child in which the beach of an island had collapsed leaving a rift between the shore and the ocean, an image that has stuck with me to the present day. The map itself (as Mox and I think Zu can attest) is pretty large and full of all kinds of what we would consider to be impossible features, geologically speaking, so I began putting together a back stories explaining how the world got to be as it is. The interest of actually writing a full tale in it has grown on me and a prompt that occurred to me out of the blue last week got me to finally write some in this setting for the first time in ages. What passes below, and the succeeding edits and additions, are pretty rough but putting it here so people can see it.
The tale is the dwarves’, as are all of the oldest tales and best.
Once, the world was round. One could take ship and sail west until you reached your point of departure again. The oldest maps and legends agree on this. The elders of men, elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs, and gnomes all agree on this. Men and elves have their own legends, which live on in corrupted forms amongst their trollish and orcish brethren. It is not known in great detail what else the gnomes teach of this matter. But the dwarves….the dwarves know.
There was light, and in that light were the first of the dwarves born.
As they walked, they found Kiroen, Father of Light, beckoning to them.
As they walked not, they found his brother, the power of darkness.
As they pondered the twain, they found the world the mighty two had made, alive and yet not, whole and yet unformed, the great Book on which the Epic of Ages is written.
As the Epic of Ages grew and flourished, some worshipped the world as creator, blaspheming the twain. Some worshipped the brother. And some worshipped Kiroen the Maker. And then, there was War.
Not war as is made between one race and another, or between the people of one place and another, or even between those who are as fire and those who are as water. This was War that continues unabated to this very moment. War that strains the fabric of all that Is. War that may, yet, end in Nothing.
In the final hour of peace, the brother struck Kiroen from behind. Mighty Kiroen survived, yet fell into slumber, unconscious and hidden to this day, as his body labors to heal the wound meant to kill. In the moment that his holy blood struck the world he had made, the world arose in wrath against the brother, destroying his weapons and imprisoning him within its depths. His name was destroyed, burnt from the minds, hearts, and even the books and scrolls of history, such was and is the world’s hatred and spite. He is the one who is naught, accursed and despised, whose name can neither be written nor spoken. Who knows his name becomes maddened, despairing, hated and outcast.
Yet the wroth of the world had a terrible price – its fashion was changed ever more. Now it seemeth to the learned to be flat, and yet not so. On the North and the South, cliffs of unimaginable depths march from the East unto the West, never failing nor lessening in their incomprehensible magnitude. On the East, water rushes away from the edge, so much so that even the swiftest of vessels cannot approach the edge to see what lies there. On the West lies the great Falls of Karkos, over which none have ever passed and returned. What remains of the once great world is less than half the size of the lands of old, with new races corrupted out of the old, new creatures and new beings brought forth in madness and insanity.
Alone of all civilizations and cities, Temporaei Hy, that most ancient fastness of the Dwarves and their greatest dwelling, survived, but not as it had been – where it had been a valley of surpassing wonder and beauty, it now stood on a rocky delta at the mouth of a raging water emptying into a vast and trackless ocean. Even the grand name is gone, spoken only amongst loremasters. Delta City it is now, port of call far from the ebb and flow of the main routes of trade even after long years of labor by its denizens to bring the world back to it. Yet here remain the oldest and strongest memories of what was, and the greatest foreboding of what may yet be. The great Signwatchers of the Dwarves, high ranked craftpriests of Kiroen, listen closely to the pulse of the world and shudder…
If he who is naught returns before Kiroen stands once more all is lost.
Yet the world at large has forgotten its maker and its history, and War, the Great and Only War, continues amid the thousands of lesser wars that plague its landscapes and heavens.
From The Origins of All, as assembled, translated and condensed by Elias of Tirimar
The wanderers of the world may tell you that there are two kinds of places in the world. First, there are places in the world where things happen – the monumental events that alter the history and shape the world; that begin and end nations and peoples; where the course of the world pivots, a vast ship turned by a rudder . Then, there are the other places, the ones where nothing happens – the endless march of time neither changes, nor affects them.
They are wrong. Surgewater was neither of these.
Things happened here, but they weren’t Things. The great happenings of the world seem to have sidestepped the Fjord Islands entirely over the course of centuries. It stood to reason; there were no lands further west of the Islands worthy of the name before you reached the Fall. In fact, it wasn’t safe to sail much more than a day or two westward if you wanted surety of return. Life carried on much as it had since the first men had set foot on the Islands.
And yet, it wasn’t a place where nothing happened, either. Alone of all the lands in the known world, there grew here the vast temperate wildwoods of argent oak. In time, the first builders learned the ways of working and farming that most magnificent and pugnacious (it was locally said that old men were more at ease with youth at play in their fields than the wood was with being worked) of hardwoods and built a livelihood on its grumpy venerability and solid, majestic strength. There were no greater ships made anywhere – even the Ship Guild of Dark Harbor and the Tiderace Building Company said so. And so the tradesmen came from the world over, hawking their wares at the great Keep in the midmost island of the Fjords in exchange for ships great and small and other treasures wrought of that most precious of woods, bringing with them the alluring aroma of change. And yet, eventually, they would leave, bearing away their newfound treasures and leaving behind the riches of the world as tribute to the masterworks of the great Shiphall of Surgewater, the fragrance would, if not stagnate, then dwindle as it spread to the towns and villages of the islands.
The greatest difference between the town where nothing happens and the town where neither nothing nor something happens is this: in the town where nothing happens, an odd event changes the topic of conversation, for a day, a month, a year. In the town that is neither, one extraordinary happening changes the world….
All around, finely carved and lacquered wooden mugs of dark oak-aged lager smashed together, spraying foam and drink everywhere, followed by the silence that is not of men gulping down their drinks in celebration. Grins and cheers rose again as the mugs slammed down on the nearby tables and the anniversary celebration of the Ship of the Line Craftsmen began.
Not a bad day as anniversaries go! thought the old man at the front to himself. Ale and food had worked well for the past nine years, but next year would have to be more special. Different. Extravagant, possibly even elegant. A pretty penny it would cost, but the tenth anniversary would be worth it. Not like I lack the funding for it, he snorted to himself.
His name was Tabor and he was an enigma. Not merely mysterious; after all, nearly everyone has something about them that could be called that, at least if it were generally known. Tabor, though, had no other name. No family. No past. No age. No fears, regrets or needs, either. He seemed to have jumped fully formed out of a story just over nine years ago, when he debarked a tradeship inbound from Newport and a few days later purchased the Surgewater Ship Club from its erstwhile "management."
A bony, sparse man with an unruly mess of white and silver hair that mostly covered his head and eyes of an almost blonde color glinting out of a craggy face, he appeared grandfatherly to those who didn't know him. Yet he could work hours longer than any other in the trade, pounding away with his hammer, or else cutting and fitting, even sanding and planing. He carried no money, yet never lacked. His toothy grin, crooked and notched with a gap or two, put people at ease, and his ready wit set them chuckling almost before they comprehended the words. A couple of nasty but faded scars ambled jaggedly up his right arm from wrist to bicep, and those who had seen him shirtless at work knew of two tattoos on his torso of some indeterminate animal, and another more livid scar on the lowest rib on his left side, set on a frame that had not an ounce of softness to it.
Lacking any other appellation for him, not to mention any other frame of reference to aid in the naming, he had been dubbed Tabor the Old by the kids in the area, which rapidly stuck. He looked the part; no middle aged man sported the wrinkly and weatherbeaten skin he carried, not to mention the knobby hands and occasionally quavering voice. He -looked- 80 or more, but his deeds and rate of work said 50 at best. Those who remembered him on his arrival said he hadn't aged at all...
The man called Old by his neighbors wasn't really feeling it today, though he did feel older than he had. The ship company had come a long way from his first days in charge. He snorted to himself in derision at the memory. The name, the crest (a glorified rowboat to his way of thinking, and on a field of grey), the company itself had been a sun-blacked mess. Midden contents were more useful; prior ownership had known nothing at all of building, and even less of marketing. The first things to go were the old crest and name, followed by most of the old “masters,” jettisoned in quick succession along with everything that wasn’t worth at least a gem doubloon. What had been left was a small office in the Keep, a shipbuilding crew barely big enough to make a schooner, let alone the great tradeships for which the Islands were justly known, enough materials and funding to make finish the three-master keel that had been laid weeks prior, and enough hopelessness to sink the Storm of the Fjordlands on a calm shallow sea.
Tabor's eyes flicked to the painting on the nearby wall of a grand ship of the line and his face creaked into a grin. The Pride of Aldarion it was named, and a beauty she was. The Pride fairly glowed with confidence, her sharp lines bespoke speed beyond that of other ships her size, but the cannon load out was greater than all of the biggest of the greatships. Tabor hoped one day to buy her back. It had been a shame to sell her, but making and selling her had been how they had made their name after years of what Tabor had called more than once "mediocre flatulence personified." My, how the times have changed...
The day the building of the first/last ship resumed after the change in ownership, the new name and crest were posted out front – Ship of the Line Craftsmen; the shield emblem a sleek and ostentatious four-master resplendent on a field of black and red chevrons. Tabor had the men assemble in the yard before work began to address them.
One by one they arrived, and saw Tabor himself hard at work. The old man swung a two-stone sledge at an ancient rock protrusion amid the yard with metronomic endurance, not pausing for a breather for a full ten minutes while everyone watched. On the last stroke, the face of the boulder split and Tabor flipped the hammer away with a flourish worthy of a bard, breathed in deep and proclaimed in a booming voice:
“Gents, I’ll not bore you with long words. I’ve heard it whispered that the Ship Club is finished. And you know what? They’re right. The Ship Club is finished, a deserved laughingstock. We’re the Ship of the Line Craftsmen now. I’ve also heard tell that we won’t last the year, that we may never build the ship before us, let alone others. THAT is a falsehood to be tossed over Karkos in winter. In a year, you men will be the greatest crew on the Islands. In a year, that boat on the crest will be a reality, not a mud-troll dream. Craftsmen create, not merely build. The ships you make will not only be solid and trustworthy, but bold, daring, adorned with the finest that men can design. That won’t be my doing – it will be yours.”
The old man took a breath and gestured to the broken rock face. “This rock has stood for years uncounted, in the way, an unwanted nuisance none of you could break. It once seemed a symbol of everything wrong with this place, of the troubles that the old company could not overcome. Yet ten minutes of persistent labor by one more stubborn and prepared has made it yield. What, then, may we accomplish, who dare to dream the impossible?”
“Breathe the air, gents! Smell the salt breeze and feel its call. They lack and indeed need a ship worthy of them! No one else has built the ship up to the task, and no one else can! A stake in the company to all who stay true!”
And because they truly were craftsmen and not boys learning anew, there was no cheering or celebration, but a deep breath and a nod of quiet confidence, smiles and the sounds of callused hands meeting and shaking in quiet and understated agreement that this ship was a worthy goal for men of their experience and strength.
Eight months later, the Pride of Aldarion slid into the deep bay of the Keep, and there was cheering; barrels of the finest Crimson Wine were opened; a new reputation was born; and Tabor's long home had been secured.