Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

31 May, 2012

Gateway Drugs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

A couple of days ago, I suddenly rediscovered one of LibraryThing’s beta features, which I had looked at when it first debuted and then not thought about again until now: lists. In particular, the one that caught my eye was a list of fantasy gateway books. The idea of the lists feature is that it aggregates the individual lists from the members that create one, and generate a common list from it, in this case of books that first sparked the reader’s interests in fantasy.

I like this, and it got me thinking about which books made me so interested in that particular genre. Now, this particular list asks members to list a single book, which I have completely failed to do – what’s the fun in just one? But I’m having some trouble thinking back – what were the books that formed my tastes in early years?

There’s one that’s not even a question, the one I’ve put on spot number one, and the books that without question has been the most formative reading experience I had as a child: The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. I don’t know how many times I read that book back when I was twelve, or how many times since then – every couple of years, at least. It remains my favourite book. The series it’s part of is great as well, but this one was my first and will always have pride of place.

But I don’t think I can attribute my love of fantasy just to one book – if all the other ones I read hadn’t been good as well, I don’t think it would have stuck. The truth is, though, I don’t really remember reading much fantasy as a child. I remember reading sci-fi. Jon Bing’s Starship Alexandria series and, a few years later, Animorphs. I did read Narnia at some point, but I think I was into my mid-teens by then, having previously contented myself with the excellent BBC TV adaptation.

I do have a very vivid memory of reading Mio, My Son at what must have been a young age, and being so utterly terrified at the first appearance of Kato that I actually screamed aloud and ran away from the book. I have vaguer memories of reading Micheal Ende’s Momo, and I’m not sure if that was before or after I saw the film adaptation. I was 13 when Harry Potter first came out in Norway, and read that not too long after, so I suppose that has been an influence as well. I don’t remember when i first read Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but I think those came later, when I was already in love. The Belgariad certainly came after that again, so I’m afraid Eddings doesn’t get much credit for my tastes at all.

I’m trying to think back to afternoons spent snooping through the public library, digging out treasures and duds from its shelves, and completely failing to put any titles to these experiences. What books were big before Potter? What was the first fantasy I read? I have no idea. But I’m interested in seeing the other lists, where other people got started in on this peculiar genre, so I think I’ll make a point of going back to this one periodically, and see what’s changed.

28 May, 2012

Welcome to My World: Empire

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

For the previous posts in this series, see here.

The history of the world is the history of empires, and no empire has ever been greater or more prosperous than Arkhosia.

There are a variety of factors which influenced Arkhosian expansionist policies, but chief among them were overpopulation – Arkhosia had a surplus of dragonborn, and, more critically, of dragons. The years immediately following the creation of the empire were good ones, with excellent harvests and mild winters. Combined with the stability the new government created, this led to great population growth. When the string of good harvests ended and was followed by leaner years, the population surplus became unsustainable. This led both to the creation of the dual citizenship system, where the dragonborn became formally the preferred citizens, and to the empire’s expansion.

The surplus of dragons was perhaps the bigger problem. The peace imposed by the empire led to fewer opportunities for young dragons to advance at the expense of established territories. Expansion provided an elegant solution. An unestablished dragon was either given a new clan of dragonborn, or took over an existing one, and then left with them to found new settlements or assume ownership of existing cities. The dragon was thus guaranteed both territory, wealth, power, and a voice in the Council of Wyrms, with minimal risk to itself and the full might of the empire behind it – a very advantageous deal. At the same time, the empire could spread out its population, and claim more land and more revenue for the state.

As with all things Arkhosian, it began with the river. The first new settlements were along the Iorostakhi, further inland than the seven cities themselves. These cities in turn became bases of operation for further expanding the area of influence in Ezhvísi and towards the Iron Hills. The larger city of Akhír was founded at the edge of the Nummelweald, to tame that wilderness. Eventually, Tundarokar too became an Arkhosian holding, and all of the sacred river was under imperial control.

By this time, expansion was a policy in and of itself, beyond any immediate need to disperse population – it was a perpetual engine providing wealth for the centre, and order for the periphery. With rule consolidated in the riverlands, expansion continued in every direction – north, through Askarovor and into the frozen wastes beyond; east, across the Basin Plains and the Central Steppes to the Border Mountains; south, all the way to the endless jungles; and west, into the Sapphire Sea and the Spice Isles. It was, of course, not simply a matter of peaceful colonisation – war was often the means of expansion, and the Arkhosian military grew quite adept at subduing local populations. Askharovor was only won by bloody battles for every settlement taken, and throughout its history, the empire had skirmishes with the nomadic barbarians in the Basin Plains. It was in the expansion of the empire the militarisation of the dragonborn clans began, and where their ideology of honourable warfare developed.

This is Arkhosia’s golden age, the era that passed into legend. Iorotákher burned to the ground in 1022 BR, and the Golden King had it rebuilt as the true jewel of the empire. It’s seven shining towers are still remembered in song.

The expansionist phase of the empire ended when the eastward movement was finally halted by a nation that was organised and powerful enough to withstand Arkhosian advances – the empire of Myklafar. relations between these two great empires were tense from the first moment, not surprising considering they both desired to expand into the same territory. Nevertheless, a peace was brokered, and tentative relations established. Trade between the nations did not exactly flourish, but it flowed. There was never to be friendship between the two powers, however. Within Arkhosia, the desire for continued expansion to the east coast was never extinguished, and there was general scepticism and disapproval of the Myklafari culture. The leaders of the rival empire were gradually demonised in the Arkhosian conciousness.

When the nobility of Myklafar actually did make deals with devils and became tieflings, this triggered a sort of moral panic in the Arkhosian elite, and the relations soured considerably until the war finally broke out in 338 BR. The two empires remained at war with each other for the next 133 years – meaning that peace was never declared between them. The war consisted of three main campaigns, with gaps of ceasefire between them, each of them bloodier than the last. Dragonborn perished on the battlefields in the thousands, and dragons were blasted out of the sky by tiefling warlocks. The war resulted in a severe culling of the dragon population and put a final stop to Arkhosia’s expansion elsewhere. the wealth of the empire was now turned to fuelling the war machine for an increasingly bitter conflict of attrition. Myklafar suffered similar losses, and the war raged on with neither empire gaining much of an advantage.

The end of the war was also the end of the empire. The tieflings had managed to convince a dragon of the Council of Wyrms to aid them in assassinating the other members of the council – ostensibly to end the bloody conflict by removing the entrenched leadership of the empire. This betrayal nearly wiped out the remaining dragons of the empire, including the Golden King, and thereby also the ruling class. Without any leadership, Arkhosia collapsed, each of its provinces left to fend for itself and with the Myklafari forces posed to swallow the whole of the continent.

This would effectively end the Arkhosian empire by itself, but the betrayal was followed only a few short days later by the greatest cataclysm in recorded history – the great earthquake of 205 BR. Scholars hesitate to call it a natural disaster, because the scale of it is unlike any other natural earthquake, but if it was caused by some outside agent, no one knows who or what it was. Theories have ranged from a Myklafari doomsday spell gone wrong to divine intervention. What is certain is that the quake shook the whole of the continent to its foundations, destroying cities and settlements all over the known world. Myklafar was undoubtedly hit worst – the epicentre of the quake was within its borders – and great portions of its landmass, including its capital, simply broke off from the continent and sank into what is now the Micklesea.

In Arkhosia, cities were levelled and roads destroyed. The empire was lost beyond any recovery, and much of its knowledge and secrets were lost with it. The sources we have for its history today come mainly from the far peripheries – private libraries in the Spice Isles and recovered hoards from the far north. The great empires had crumbled into dust. Five hundred years of chaos and barbarity would follow.

24 May, 2012

Typing between Coughs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

You might have noticed that there was no post up on Monday, and if you didn’t notice it, well, I guess you know now. Public shame is a fact. The shame! Oh, the shame!

But I have excuses! It wasn’t just because I am a lazy ne’er-do-well and unreliable couch barnacle! Since about last Monday, I have been suffering from acute pharyngitis – fever and pain and the whole shebang. From Thursday till Tuesday, I basically stayed in bed, alternately sleeping and coughing and occasionally watching a bit of TV. I could not even begin to think about sitting down to write a post to satisfy my self-imposed schedule. Not even a crappy filler one. I cannot remember the last time I was so reduced by illness.

I can remember the last time I came close, it happens to be last May. I had just handed in my Master’s thesis, and almost immediately got struck down by a variety of ailments, including what would later be diagnosed as gout. I figured at the time that my body had basically been as stressed out as my mind in the final stretch of writing the thesis, and once it was all done my immune system basically went on holiday for a while. I’ve spoken with others who have had similar experiences, of suddenly falling ill once the exam season is ended. I sort of wish that was the case now, but if so it seems my immune system is working of a bad calendar – my first exam started yesterday, and I won’t be done until mid-June. I sincerely hope getting ill in the spring won’t become a tradition.

The knock-down last May was in some ways worse, and in some ways better. Like I said, it came close to the same level of reduction, but not quite there. My mobility was severely limited by the gout attack, and I was similarly confined to bed, but my mind remained pretty clear – I could have written something, lying there. So no fever, and a clear mind, but on the other hand, the pain was worse. At its hight, it reduced me to weeping, which I think pain hasn’t otherwise managed since I was a child.

Anyway, the upshot of it all is an amendment of my mental schedule rule to give me the opportunity to call in sick. Now you must excuse me; I have an array of pills to take.

17 May, 2012

Red, White and Blue

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I know I promised more Arkhosia today, but that was before I realised what the date was going to be. It is the 17th of May, the Norwegian Constitution Day, so instead of fictional history, I’m going to talk briefly about some real history instead.

On May 17th, 1814, the Norwegian Constitution was signed by the delegates charged with writing it, in the area of Eidsvoll. The constitution, modelled on the French and American examples, established Norway as a sovereign and independent nation, after 400 years of rule from Denmark – the declaration of independence had come only a few months earlier. It defined the role and powers of the king – a Danish prince who had his fingers all over this process – and of the national assembly, and in general went about re-establishing the nation.

The “sovereign and independent” thing didn’t really stick the first time around – Sweden invaded later the same year, as they had been promised Norway as part of the spoils of war following the defeat of Napoleon. The king of Sweden became also the king of Norway, but the constitution was allowed to remain in place, and Norway functioned as its own realm that just happened to share a monarch with its neighbour – all in all a big step up from the situation under Denmark. This union with Sweden lasted until 1905, but that’s a different day, less celebrated.

The constitution has been changed a fair bit over the years. Jews are no longer barred from the kingdom, the national assembly has been made unicameral, and women can now inherit the throne.  The next revision happens this very month, on the 21st , changing the role of the Church of Norway which will no longer be the official religion of the state. For reasons too depressing to get into here, the thing is written in Danish, and as it has been revised, new paragraphs have also been written in same-style Danish, making us one of two nations in the world to write our laws in an archaic language (the other one is the Vatican).

And on the 17th of May we throw a big celebration in honour of this curious document. In theory, at least. In practice, the constitution itself doesn’t get much airtime on Constitution Day, it’s more of a Norway-in-General Day. There are parades and flags and songs and enough patriotism to make a Texan blush. We really go nuts today. I have more than once seen foreigners remark on how weird it is to see such overt displays of outright nationalism, that somehow doesn’t have racism behind it. While I’m sure there are racists out there who seize the day for themselves, the mainstream celebration really is part of the whole PC culture the racists hate so much, and free of any malice. It’s a huge birthday party for the nation, and everyone gets together for hot dogs and ice cream.

I didn’t really have a point I wanted to make today, I just wanted to spin some thoughts around the day. Who know when the 17th will coincide with one of my update days again? To round it all off, here’s the national anthem of Norway, and the song that should be our national anthem as well.

14 May, 2012

Emergency Link Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I am out and about away from home and hearth, and with terribly unstable internet. Since I plain don’t have time to write a proper post, here’s some music to distract you all. See if you can detect the secret theme. Yeah, that’s right, this isn’t half-arsed at all, it’s a test!

I promise a more thorough post on Thursday, as I’ll have time to do some more Arkhosian history by then. Still a real test, though!

10 May, 2012

Welcome to My World: Arkhosian City States

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

For the first post in this series, click here

The recorded history of Arkhosia can be divided into four distinct periods. It begins with the city states period, encompassing the time from the founding of the seven cities until their unification. Next follows the empire, where the new state expands its borders drastically. This period lasts until the end of the great war with the tiefling realm, Myklafar, which signals the start of the third period, a dark age where records are few and far between. Finally, there is the current period, the new kingdom, following the formation of the Church of the Chosen One, and Anhem the Great’s reunification project.

But let us start at the beginning. It is difficult to date exactly when the seven cities – which, counting from the mouth of the river and up, are Stakhrokénzi, Azíd, Zeïár, Miákis, Ézhva, Iorotákher and Idád – were founded. The Arkhosian plains have always been a fertile land, and host to many people, and it is quite possible that settlements on the sites of the cities have existed as far back as the end of the Dawn War. Traditionally, the founding of Iorotákher has been dated to 4873 years before the Revelation, but the basis for this tradition is lost if it ever existed. Stakhrokénzi claims to be “the eternal city”, and its position at the mouth of the river might give the claim some weight – it is without a doubt a place ideally suited for settlement. Here too, however, we lack clear evidence for a precise time of founding. Linguistic evidence suggests that the great bathing festival in Zeïár pre-dates the founding of the city itself (as the name contains the root ze, “bath”), which indicates that the city was not founded until after draconic cult was already well established in the area. Scrolls found in ruins in the Market Desert, which mention trade with “the cities of the north”, have been dated to the 25th century BR, but are too vague to be considered definite evidence for cities in the plains at that point.

The first truly verifiable reference to the seven cities is found in a letter written by the Patriarch of Tundarokar to his counterpart in distant Oversae, in the year 1750 BR. The letter speaks of the dragons in the cities by the lower river having created a new race of servitors for themselves. Not only does the letter confirm the presence of at that time already well established cities, but it also gives a tantalising glimpse into another of Arkhosia’s ancient mysteries, the birth of the dragonborn.

After the advent of the dragonborn, our sources become more secure, and more abundant. From the descriptions of life in the cities during this later part of the period, we can make some educated guesses about their founding. Each of the cities had as its ruler a single dragon. It is a well-observed pattern of dragon behaviour that they will sometimes install themselves as lords and protectors of humanoid communities, and claim their settlements as part of their territories. Given the relatively large number of dragons in the plains, it is possible each of the seven cities were founded when a dragon decided to assume ownership of a smaller, less organised community. As the city states grew in power and size, they claimed more territory further away from the river, thus expanding their influences across the plains. A study of the many and varied dragonborn clans shows that in that early period of their history, they formed family groups around several dragons, which indicates that there were many lesser dragons in the territory controlled by the cities – perhaps overlords of their own tributary settlements. There are some accounts that paint the cities as similar to other dragon autocracies, where the general populace is little more than slaves, but most speak of the humanoids as full citizens with rights, similar to the situation in the later empire.

The dragonborn gradually became the most populous of the humanoid races in the plains, and formed the core citizenry of the city states. It is clear that the early Arkhosians thought of themselves as a single culture, though they were divided in several states, and trade between the cities flourished. There were occasional wars between them, the clash between Ézhva and Miákis in 1513 BR being the bloodiest example, but on the whole they seem to have been remarkably peaceful. At least twice, conflict between cities was settled not with battle, but with single combat between the cities’ dragons. As dragons are used to fighting each other for territory, it is quite likely this was a more common occurrence, but that records of them have simply been lost.

When the cities united under the so-called Golden King of Iorotákher, in 1302 BR, it was hailed as a great show of unity and the common purpose of Arkhosian culture, but in reality it represented a tremendous loss of status for the other six cities, which became in effect tributaries themselves. The exact circumstances which led to this move are lost, however; likely edited out of the history books by the king – now emperor – himself. All that has been allowed to survive are texts hailing the new nation as the fulfilment of both the will of the gods and of the people – a sentiment which is now echoed by the Church of the Chosen One. The dragons of the other cities were unquestionably allowed to continue ruling them, however, and also given a voice in the running of the new empire in the Council of Wyrms, so the reorganisation clearly did not come as a result of a complete defeat. Whatever the cause, the cities were now united, and the empire was born.

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