Continuing a new series exploring the realms of Astrom, this time it’s the turn of Ciricen, a wild and beautiful country in the northeast of the continent. Ciricen was the first realm to be founded outside of Kalimar, the work of an exiled elven prince of royal blood. Lying in the cool, rain-swept northeast of Astrom, its destiny was shaped both by its geography and by the character of those elves who accompanied this prince into exile.
Ciricen lies in the northeast of Astrom, a vast peninsula joined to the mainland only by a narrow isthmus. The Neck of Ciricen, as it is known, connects Ciricen to the Dorzand Plateau to the south, and unforgiving terrain is common to both. The neck contains the Dorzand Pass, a narrow, rock-choked road between the high peaks of the Dorzand Mountains. This is Ciricen’s fortified gatehouse, filled with defensive towers and the formidable mountain castle of Del Ruthan.
From this narrow neck the rest of Ciricen balloons out in coastlines sweeping northwest and northeast. As the mountains of the neck give out so the coasts become low and sandy. Likewise, the terrain is low, open and fertile below the mountains, so that standing in the mountains looking north one can survey almost the whole of southern Ciricen spread out below.
Initially the eastern coast of Ciricen is not far distant from that of northern Kalimar, separated by Beachbone Bay, but soon the waters grow wider as Ciricen thrusts out into the Troizon Ocean. On this side of the country the rivers flow eastwards from mountains in the interior. The mountains are lower than elsewhere in Astrom, but more inhospitable because of the higher latitude. They are tangled wildernesses and snow-swept for long stretches of the year. From high moors and trackless glens the rivers flow down and open into wide, open valleys, forests and wetlands.
On the west side Ciricen looks as if it should be joined to Hendar, but an ancient tumult of the earth tore the two asunder and left them cleaved as if by a vast axe-stroke. Now the long, narrow Firth of Ciricen runs between them, a strategic and contested waterway busy with trading ships and lined with many fortified ports.
There are interior mountain ranges on the western side of Ciricen too, from which run down westward-flowing rivers that mirror those in the east. Between these two sets of mountain ranges in east and west lies a great central plain and valley. The River Roaras flows two-thirds of the length of Ciricen, right through the centre, before emptying into the cold northern sea. Beside its estuary is Shadow Point, which juts out of Ciricen’s northern coast like a topknot from a misshapen head. The forbidding cliffs of its headlands mark the Shadow Cape, which delineates the Troizon Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Urunmar and the Shadowy Seas in the west.
Shadow Point reaches towards the tentacle-like rocky peninsulas of Urunmar, and it is this proximity which would leave Ciricen vulnerable to attack from the north. Ciricen’s northern coast is somewhat further north than the top of Hendar and in fact lies level with the top of the Haunted Pass and above the downward thrust of Tooth Head in Urunmar. These misty northern waters have ever been the entry point for those attacking Ciricen from the north, and the sight of beast-headed longships cutting through the mists is a familiar spectacle stamped onto the national psyche of Ciricen.
Separated from the rest of Astrom, Ciricen is exposed, and its low-lying northern coasts offer little defence against attackers. Thus, an invader might establish himself with ease in the north before coming to the more defensible mountains to the south, while the Roaras is a winding artery leading straight into the heart of Ciricen, where lies its capital, Rohandur.
In the south the country has a climate similar to that of lowland Britain, warm in the summer and winters kept mild by the seas on either side. The interior mountains are akin to those of Wales and Scotland, only a little higher and greater in extent. The northern part of the country does not benefit from the warm ocean currents that moderate the climate in the south, but instead bear the brunt of cold currents in the Shadowy Seas and fierce northern gales bearing the snow and hail down from icier latitudes. Here Ciricen is more like parts of Scandinavia.
Ciricen can claim the distinction of being the first elven realm founded outside of Kalimar, though it was unhappy circumstances that led to its creation. A quarrel among the princes of the ruling Avatar house resulted in the exile of Prince Eretholin, and he went north across the mountains to the vast, bulbous pensinula beyond Dorzand Pass. The name Ciricen originally meant the peninsula beyond the gates, referring to its narrow, mountainous entrance, though in a tragic twist of fate the alternative rendering of ‘besieged country’ was all too apt.
Eretholin did not linger long in Ciricen, but crossed the Firth of Ciricen into Endomar. However, his youngest son Faranor remained and became King of Ciricen. Once the term of their exile had elapsed both father and son refused to return to Kalimar, preferring to build realms of their own, and from this seed of animosity sprang a whole history of estrangement between these nations.
Ciricen grew slowly in isolation, the lords of Faranor’s court gradually colonising the wilderness of the peninsula in an expanding radius around the royal city of Rohandur in the country’s centre. It was not long before the elves of Ciricen encountered the centaurs and other mythical beasts who inhabited the eastern forests and northern mountains, and Faranor’s claim to lordship over the whole peninsula put them at variance. The hunting of the centaurs was a stain of infamy in Ciricen’s early history, and a foretaste of later developments in which this realm espoused very different values to those of Kalimar.
The extreme isolation of Ciricen – suffering no visitors from Kalimar nor any trading ships except those which plied the Firth of Ciricen to Endomar – led to culture of insularity, secrecy and hubris. The elves of Ciricen mistrusted the institutions of the mother-realm, whom they held responsible for their exile, and so they easily fell into different ways of thinking.
Across the long, slow centuries of the Second Chapter their religious differences with Kalimari orthodoxy gradually developed from philosophical disputes to full-blown heresies and false creeds of all kinds. This made Ciricen quite alien in mindset and customs from the rest of Elvendom, and they reacted with stubborn pride and resentment to the efforts of the Kalimari elite to correct their course. They were encouraged in their deviance by the errant doctrines of Northolin, once head of the faith and Faranor’s great-grandfather. Among other things, it was his far-reaching influence that set Ciricen, Endomar and other smaller principalities apart from the southern realms. Over the course of time the true faith of Prélan was fractured like light through a prism, and there sprang up innumerable religions and sects of diverse kinds, ranging from the benign to the abominable.
Things built to a head at the end of the Second Chapter and reached a catastrophic climax in the Great Betrayal, a mass public rejection of Prélan by elves great and small across the continent. The profane ceremonies in Ciricen were amongst the most blasphemous, incurring the enmity of Kalimar as well as falling under the judgement of Prélan. The Curse of Morality descended on the land as the vast majority of the elves of Ciricen forfeited their grace of deathlessness.
No sooner had they begun to grapple with the monumental implications of this decisive juncture in their national history than they were confronted with war from their estranged immortal kindred. King Avalar led the invasion of Ciricen like a crusade, and though his main aim was the overthrow of Faranor’s hateful regime, the invasion led to a lengthy occupation of Ciricen by the elves of Kalimar as they hunted down the leaders of the worst heresies, including Faranor’s offspring and the demon-worshipping cults.
It was only after the elven withdrawal that mortal Ciricien history could begin in earnest, and a new dynasty was installed under King Lordon. He was a wise peacemaker who managed to both establish a new progressive identity for his people and secure partial reconciliation with the elves. When he succumbed to a natural death, his successors embroiled themselves in successive wars in Hendar, Aranar and Dorzand as Ciricen flexed its muscles on the world stage.
In the era of the Ship-Kings Ciricen forged strong maritime connections with Maristonia and contested the high seas with the black-sailed Northmen fleets coming down from the frozen wastes of Urunmar to harry the southern coasts. As it proved, these were only preliminaries to the First War of Kurundar, in which the men of Ciricen fought as one of the Free Peoples, firmly allied to their erstwhile enemies.
It was in the aftermath of Kurundar’s fall and the ill-fated experiment of the Great Union that the destiny of Ciricen took an adverse turn, one from which it never fully recovered. The emergence of the Dragon Princes condemned the land to long years of strife and bloodshed, in which were birthed the implacably opposed factions of the Lordai and Sordai. The one was a noble brotherhood of warriors committed to the ways of Prélan and alliance with the Free Peoples, but the other were pagan cultists under the sway of demonic forces from Urunmar. This soul-level schism in Ciricen led to the development of two separate nations, each sworn to destroy the other. Through various temporary respites and the varying fortunes of the outside world, this national blood-feud never abated and continued to define long centuries in strife and division.
It was as a divided and wartorn nation that Ciricen watched the rise of the Silver Empire and the return of Kurundar. The latter lost little time in plaguing Ciricen with orc and Northmen raids in support of the Sordai, and long before the Second War of Kurundar Ciricen was lost to the forces of evil, the Lordai either exiled or driven deep underground.
It took a heroic effort for them to return victorious and reclaim their kingdom from amid the ruin of Kurundar’s second fall, and the renewed Ciricen of the Fourth Chapter bore deep scars from centuries of trauma. The descendants of the Lordai warrior-chieftains struggled to reunite Ciricen under the restored monarchy, and their nascent efforts were blighted by the return yet again of Kurundar and his Sordai allies. By the time of the Quest of Oron Amular Ciricen was a fragile and divided kingdom, but home to valiant lords who still stop at nothing to prevent the return of the dark times when evil ruled the land.
To read the first post in this series and find out all about Aranar, click here. Up next, and coming soon, is Hendar, greatest of the Mortal kingdoms.