Welcome to a new series exploring the realms of Astrom, beginning with Aranar, home of the horse-lords. Aranar is a large country well-endowed with natural resources and whose culture is dominated by the breeding and use of horses. Its division into dozens of rival clans has sapped its strength and prevented it being one of the great powers of Astrom. Nevertheless, Aranar is an important place, sharing a border with all the other major powers and occupying Astrom’s centre of gravity for trade and cultural exchange.
Geographically Aranar is at the centre of Astrom, both north to south and east to west. It is almost entirely land-locked and its climate reflects its distance from the sea – there are scorching summers out on the plains as well as withering winters. In many ways it resembles some of the countries in central Europe, particularly Hungary, except for having mountains.
Aranar is unique for sharing a border with every other major realm in Astrom. To its east across the Black Mountains is Kalimar. Although most of Aranar’s eastern border is formed by the long cliff of the Dorzand Wall, its south-easternmost corner touches Kalimar at the upper Vanri. Southwards across the River Vanri is Maristonia. The river is important for transportation and trade, but not as much as might be thought, for by peculiarities of history and relative geographic isolation, both southern Aranar and northern Maristonia are only sparsely populated.
Westward lies Ithrill across the River Elarim, a major tributary of the Vanri flowing south down from the southern Goragath Mountains. Thus, Aranar lies sandwiched between the two elven kingdoms, which is apt since the roots of its history began in the great western migration led by Lancearon from Kalimar to Ithrill.
To the north is Hendar, a mortal neighbour, but most of the border tracks along impassable ranges of mountains and high hills, which very effectively fence the two rivals off from each other. Their main point of contact is in the narrow lowland corridor at the eastern end of the Stallion Hills, where the Great North Road connects them between the hills and the Firth of Ciricen. A great deal of the overland trade of Astrom flows up and down this vital artery. Tense though this border often is, Hendar is traditionally preoccupied with either Ciricen across the Firth or Ithrill to the south-west, meaning Aranar is usually not threatened from the north.
Aranar has a tiny strip of coast along the base of the Firth of Ciricen, where it shares a short maritime border with Ciricen, but since its folk shun the water this is not a significant territory. In the extreme north-east Aranar touches mainland Ciricen at the Isthmus of Dorzand, but again topography has conspired to make this unsuitable for trade. The clans in this part of Aranar are fierce and watchful, for here starts the Dorzand Wall, beyond which lurk many tribes of hill-men, the perpetual menace of eastern Aranar.
Aranar itself is dominated by several major geographical features. First is the Great North Road, which runs south-west from Phoenix on the Vanri to the Hendarian frontier in the north-east. This great conduit of commerce is the lifeblood of the Aranese economy, and as such a large part of its population is located in towns along the road, whilst elsewhere the land is much emptier. Second is Firwood, a giant forest to the north-west, a no-man’s land claimed by no nation. It is vast and threatening and its wild legends keep civilised folk away. Thus, a huge part of what might be Aranar actually lies outside its bounds. Third are the White Mountains, a compact mountain-range in the centre of the country. They separate the urbane north from the wilder south and the rich eastern plains from the rolling downs of the west. The rivers flowing down from these mountains divide up Aranar into strips, often forming clan boundaries.
Most of Aranar is wide open plains, rolling downs, small hills and little forests, a place ideally suited for horses to flourish. Huge tracts of land are given over to equine husbandry, and still more land is occupied by great herds of wild horses which roam across the landscape under wide skies. Apart from the trade-focused towns along the Great North Road, most Aranese settlements are focused around individual homesteads and pastoral villages rather than large towns, and much less land is tilled for agriculture than in other nations.
The history of Aranar begins in the late First Chapter when elves first began to migrate out of Kalimar. Although Prince Avar rode here in earlier centuries, but he was a lone traveller, and not until Lancearon’s great migration did elves tread these plains in any great numbers. Lancearon set forth from Kalimar intent upon founding a new realm for himself, and in his train came elves of all three kindreds. Yet many of them, particularly Wood-elves, forsook the road along the way and settled in the forests north of the Vanri. In this way they became the first inhabitants of what would become Aranar.
A larger community of Avatar settled in the western part of the country, refusing to cross the Elarim with Lancearon into Ithrill. It was this community which spread across the hilly country of Jaglalir and from which came the first rulers of Aranar. In the Second Chapter, Jaglalir and the White Lands became the two main principalities in the region.
Horses and horsemanship became an important part of their culture, partly because the elite were keen riders and partly because the terrain was well-suited to horses. Their studs and equine bloodlines became especially prized after Prince Avar, the great traveller who had first explored this country, gifted the Lord Telerin with many of his own finest horses. From these came a nation of horses that were the strongest, swiftest and noblest in all Astrom. So enthusiastic were equine pursuits in Aranar that a circuit of tournaments was established, including the great Avarian Tournament in Hamid, and a great part of the aristocracy’s leisure time was given over to this as a way of life.
While history wended its sleepy way from one tournament to another in the west, in the east Aranar was not so docile. Goblins came down out of the mountains in the east to ravage the land and in response crusading orders of knights were created, of which the Bretonaires were the most famous. These orders fought long and hard to rid the land of the goblin scourge. They built many castles and watchtowers to secure the eastern hills and plains, and as a result this region became known as Normanar, Tower-Realm.
Once the goblin threat subsided Aranar knew peace for long centuries and its folk became their own worst enemies. They drifted from the true faith of Prélan into a faithless existence of either sober secularism or debauched paganism. Amid a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting religious inclinations, the great mass of the population slid so far from Prélan, the God of their ancestors, as to reject Him completely and definitively. Thus, they became ensnared in the Great Betrayal, and at the dawn of the Third Chapter mortality spread irrevocably across the kingdom, sparing only those Wood-elves deep in the forests who remained true to their ancestral faith.
Aranar at the start of the Third Chapter was a melting pot of diverse religious fervour and competing princedoms. It took several centuries of war, during which time the first clan identities began to be forged, for the folk of Aranar to arrive at a solution which might promise peace. The Avarian Tournament, now named the Hamid Tournament, would become an annual event to elect a ruler who would govern all the clans for a year. Thus, all would be involved in the decision and no one leader would be permitted to rule for very long.
Over the centuries, as the clans became more established, this system crystallised into the peculiar Aranese method that determined the rulership for millennia to come. At first elected by chosen representatives, ceaseless quarrelling meant that the Jeantar, as this office became known, had to win his place, rather than be elected. He did so by winning more points in the Tournament than any other. The Jeantar then defended his title against all comers the next summer, ceding power to another if he lost, but prolonging his tenure by another year if he won. In this way peace and unity was achieved, power being swapped around between the competing clans by endless generations of chivalric knights.
The folk of Aranar could, at times, come together and fight as one for some great cause. The First War of Kurundar was one such event, when Jeantar Mirhorn I of the Eagle Clan led a great cavalry north to join the great alliance of nations that overthrew the power of Urunmar. By and large, though, these events were rare, and Aranar mostly concentrated on internal affairs and exhausted its energies on ceaseless tourneying.
Aranar did participate in the short-lived experiment of the Great Union, an attempt at collaborative government for all the Free Peoples, but when it went awry she returned to her old ways quickly. Apart from brief flurries of civil war, Aranar was largely peaceful until the rise of the Silver Empire, when Lancearon sought to subdue the whole of Astrom, thinking he alone could unite the Free Peoples against the returning threat of Kurundar. Aranar resisted this design and fought stubbornly to preserve its independence.
The result was a slow, inexorable, but incomplete conquest of Aranar whereby the western half of the realm fell under imperial sway, but the eastern part remained free and febrile. Some clans submitted to Lancearon, but others only stopped fighting his legions when the Second War of Kurundar broke out at the end of the Third Chapter. Far more successful than in the First War, this time Kurundar overran most of Aranar, reaching even to the Vanri, and the desperate coalition of empire and free clans was barely sufficient to prevent him going further. Only a superhuman effort by the Free Peoples, belatedly aided by Maristonia under its newly restored King Curillian, defeated Kurundar a second time.
The Silver Empire was a spent force by the time Aranar was liberated, and so it was not long afterwards that Lancearon’s forces retreated back across the Elarim, leaving Aranar independent once more, scarred but free. The clans resumed their old way of life, competing annually to become Jeantar against a backdrop of ever-shifting clan fortunes. In the Fourth Chapter Aranar had troubles with Dorzandian hill-men and Harracks, but then Kurundar arose again to make the whole world look north. Such was the hour when the invite arrived at the Jeantar’s Palace, bidding the horse-lords come and compete at the Tournament of Oron Amular.