Welcome to the eighth and final instalment in my Realms of Astrom series. After Aranar, Ciricen, Hendar, Ithrill, Kalimar, Lurallan and Maristonia, we finish up with Urunmar. Urunmar is a country apart. The northernmost realm in Astrom, it is only connected to the rest of the continent by a narrow, mountainous isthmus. Despite being the third largest country, geographical isolation, an extreme climate and a sundered history all mean it is the least known and most mysterious of all the countries in Astrom.
On a map Urunmar seems to be balancing at the top of Astrom like an over-large head on a very spindly neck. It sits opposite both Hendar and Ciricen and seems to glower down on the rest of the continent. The isthmus which connects Urunmar to Hendar is so forbidding in its terrain, a labyrinthine pass snaking between cold peaks and dark glens, that few dared to pass beyond it, even before it became a place of dread. When horrors untold occupied this perilous pass, the land-bridge between Urunmar and the rest of Astrom became an almost impassable obstacle.
Urunmar is a country shaped by fire and ice. A ring of volcanoes form an inner chain that fence the central plateau off from the lands without, and the seismic activity of this region has so riven the land that it is tortured and gnarled like nowhere else. The eight great peninsulas on its eastern coast, that reach out into the northern Troizon Ocean like the tentacles of a polar leviathan, are the result of ancient tumults in the continental landmass and severe glaciation that carved out the great fjords.
Nowadays, Urunmar’s climate is less harsh, and the glaciers have retreated to the mountains where they are regulated in size by periodic volcanic eruptions. Instead of masses of ice, frigid rivers flow down to feed the eastern fjords, sustaining cold forests of spruce, larch and fir. This boreal forest can also be found on the western side, along the Rétorn Ocean coast.
Climatically Urunmar has four main bands, running south-to-north in parallel layers. In the far south, in Barasor and Tooth Head, is a temperate zone, where low-lying regions are still suitable for sparse agriculture and some broad-leaved forests of aspen and birch can be found. North of that is a taiga zone, boreal forests running through the middle belt of the country. As one progresses further northwards the trees thin out into a tundra of semi-frozen heath, moss and bog, where great herds of reindeer and musk oxen roam. Beyond that, in the far north, is a polar belt where mountain glaciers give out into a coastal ice-shelf. This region is known as Nar-Ureth – the desert of upland waste. It is a bleak, uninhabited wilderness that stretches almost to the polar ice-cap, and touched on both sides by arctic seas.
Urunmar’s very name evokes this same sense of inhospitable terrain, meaning literally the land of waste. Yet this stems from the ignorance of outsiders, for southerners believe that Urunmar is incapable of supporting all but the most barbaric and unnatural forms of life. In fact, Urunmar has fertile seas with abundant fish-stocks, a forest biome teeming with life and southerly latitudes capable of supporting diverse plants. Only in its far north and centre is Urunmar truly a wasteland.
While the far north is ice-clad, the central plateau inside the volcano-ring is desertified because of the ash deposited by regular eruptions. It is a high-altitude desert, full of lava flows, acidic streams and geyser fields. The acidic rain leaves it treeless and also stunts the tree growth in the northern part of the eastern coast. The Furophir River that runs down from the northernmost volcanoes in the ring is one of the great rivers of Astrom, running for hundreds of miles north to south, but it is not a life-supporting waterway. The snowmelts are quickly clogged with lava-spills and the whole river becomes not just acidic but also semi-molten when it runs past Oron Cavardul, the great volcano guarding the pass at the southern end of the ring. Great clouds of vapour blanket the entire valley, resulting from the continual mixing of ice and fire, and its mouth in the Gulf of Urunmar is a grim, fog-bound stretch of coastline.
Urunmar is roughly the size of Greenland, and shares many of its characteristics. The eastern fjords are similar to the Norwegian coast and the western lowlands outside the mountain ring are like Siberia or northern Canada in climate and vegetation.
The geographical isolation of Urunmar meant that its recorded history began much later than the southern realms, and all that preceded its first certain records is shrouded in myth and mystery. Elven lore holds that it was uninhabited until the end of the Great Wars, when it became a refuge for demons and dark spirits fleeing the downfall of their master and their defeat by the elves. Though they could not come nigh the Pool of High Magic, which radiated the power of Prélan from Oron Barazand, Urunmar nevertheless became home to evil things long before it was colonised by the Free Peoples. The only contact the Free Peoples had with Urunmar in the First Chapter was a quest by Faranor of Ciricen, Sin-Tolor of Tol Ankil and Kenferon of Ithrill to overcome an evil spirit in the Haunted Pass.
Yet this was a fleeting encounter and not repeated. The elves of Endomar (future Hendar) stayed well away from the Haunted Pass, for it was a place of fear even when it posed no direct threat. Nothing is known of the history of Urunmar during the Second Chapter, and only in the last years of the chapter did elven settlers dare to force the pass and build the city of Del Kenfer just within the confines of Urunmar. Aside from the fact that they too were struck with the Curse of Morality, little is known of the fate of this colony, for it passed outside the bounds of mortal knowledge.
Early in the Third Chapter the Quest of Oron Barazand brought the brothers Kulothiel and Kurundar through the Haunted Pass, and many strange adventures they had before locating the second Pool of High Magic. For a few perilous weeks the whole subsequent fate and history of Urunmar teetered on a knife-edge. Had Kulothiel remained with his brother, perhaps things might have gone otherwise, but as it was, Kurundar alone reached the fabled pool. The League of Wizardry lost touch with its young emissary and feared him lost; only later did it become apparent that he had not only survived but claimed the power of the Pool for his own.
Influenced by the dark spirits that yet dwelt in the surrounding mountains, Kurundar fell into pride, evil and lust for power, and as he sickened in spirit, so the pool darkened and fell from grace. For the next three and a half thousand years it would become the beating heart of Kurundar’s power and the source of Astrom’s great peril. Secure in his mountain fastness of Oron Barazand, which was renamed Oron Cavardul, Kurundar set himself in opposition to the free world and began building armies of conquest. Dragons and fell beasts he bound to his service, and vast hordes of orcs he bred in the darkness. For centuries he built up his power in secret, and the free world never knew what danger lurked beyond its northern borders.
When the Great Plague struck Hendar, Kurundar came forth and offered aid to the men of Nalator, thus winning their allegiance. Many of them followed him back to Urunmar, tricked by promises of wide lands and great wealth. In fact, they found themselves doomed to a cold and hard existence, scratching a living from seaside colonies on Urunmar’s coasts, where they became a seagoing people, frost-bitten and ferocious. Northmen they were called. In the fullness of time, Kurundar sent their fleets of longships south to assail the Free Peoples, and for long years the sight of black sails struck fear into the hearts of Mortals and elves alike. It took a great alliance of different navies to finally destroy the menace of these dark fleets at the Battle of Tooth Point.
Even then the Free Peoples scarcely imagined the true nature of the threat of Urunmar, though at around this time the League of Wizardry became suspicious of magical activity in the frozen north. Still veiled in secrecy, Kurundar succeeded in seducing and suborning wizards from the League, mages and sorcerers who would become the greatest of his allies. Even the brief invasion and occupation of the Northmen lands by King Cavardir of Hendar failed to uncover the true nature of Kurundar’s power, and the south lingered in ignorance a while longer.
Yet at last, Kurundar unveiled himself and prepared to invade Astrom. The threat of Urunmar succeeded in forging an unprecedented coalition of elves, dwarves, armists and Mortals. Led by the League of Wizardry, a great host of many nations marched beyond the Haunted Pass and into the heart of Urunmar in what became known as the First War of Kurundar. In a terrible battle beneath Oron Cavardul, Kurundar was defeated and fled into the frozen wilderness.
For centuries nothing was heard of him, and only later did the League of Wizardry discover that he had survived and wielded a fell and secret influence from afar. It was Kurundar’s doing to establish an outpost of evil at Haracost (Arcost) in Ciricen and bring the Sordai race into being to torment the faithful men of Ciricen. Many wars and unhappy events bore the dark fingerprints of Kurundar, and soon he was able to begin luring new wizards to his side.
For centuries his power regrew, taking advantage of unending factions and rivalries that kept the Free Peoples divided and at war amongst themselves. Whilst elves and Mortals were thus distracted, Kurundar rebuilt and redoubled his power, and reclaimed the great castles which had been built to guard the passes of Urunmar. Kurundar deployed his servants to foment strife in the south, and ever Ciricen bore the brunt of his attention and hatred. Whilst Urunmar itself remained cast in shadow, Kurundar’s forces seized Dorzand, turning it into an evil place of dread, and ultimately they conquered Ciricen as well, the Lordai fighting a centuries-long defeat.
Finding Lancearon’s Silver Empire arrayed against him, Kurundar unleashed magical warfare in the form of a dreadful plague which did grievous harm to the Free Peoples. In its wake came raids of increasing size until the Second War of Kurundar broke out. This time, instead of being on the defensive from the first, Kurundar seized the initiative. Breaking the magical forcefields that the League of Wizardry had erected, he drove south in a great onslaught, and neither League nor Empire could stop him. Hendar and Aranar were conquered and the elven heartlands of Ithrill and even Kalimar were assailed before the tide turned. It was long and costly effort before the Free Peoples managed to defeat Kurundar again.
Yet although they overthrew him, like the first time, they failed to destroy him. Kurundar again went into hiding and bided his time. This time he fled as far as the Underworld itself, and when he returned a third time to Urunmar he brought fresh forces from hell to develop his power to new heights. In his absence the Northmen had sued for peace and lived in quiet isolation from the Free Peoples, but they soon found themselves under his sway and mobilised by land and sea for terror and pillage.
Seeing this latest build-up of evil power in the north, the waning League of Wizardry resolved to make one final effort to rid the world of Kurundar. Yet despite their heroic sacrifice, they fell short of their ultimate purpose, and Kurundar survived, crippled yet still a dire menace. As Kulothiel holds his Tournament at Oron Amular, Urunmar remains a realm of evil and a shadow of menace. With Astrom weaker and more vulnerable than it has ever been, it is only a matter of time before the dogs of war are loosed once more.
Thank you for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed this Realms of Astrom series. If you have, please tell others about World of Astrom. Be sure to subscribe to this blog to read more great posts coming up soon. There’s so much more to explore in Astrom.