With this post I’m going to start a series of short introductions to the major realms in my world. This should all help with the basic orientation, because Astrom is a big place. Not only is it huge in size, but it’s also incredibly diverse, both geographically and culturally, and steeped in rich history.
So, starting with Maristonia, I’m going to briefly introduce each of the major countries, all of which have characters who turn up in Oron Amular. For each I will summarise its geography and history and also offer some parallels with places in this world to help give you a feel for what each place is like.
Maristonia is undoubtedly the most important, both because it’s closest to my heart and because most of my main characters call it their home. Maristonia was an early creation, dating back to my very first stories and maps, and it has survived the many changes and upheavals since. Now Maristonia dominates the southern half of the continent of Astrom, a mighty kingdom of great wealth and storied history.
Astrom is effectively divided into half by the great River Vanri which runs east to west from the Black Mountains on the border of Kalimar to Silver Bay in the west. North of the Vanri is a region called Ciroken, whilst to the south lies Ebinnin. Ebinnin stretches from the Vanri all the way down to the Southern Cape, and whilst it contains the tribes of Lurallan and Swordhilt Peninsula, it is Maristonia which dominates the region.
Maristonia is almost crab-like in shape, with the Carthaki Mountains forming its hard shell and the twin peninsulas of Mastred and Carinen forming its elongated claws. The kingdom is composed of five distinct provinces, four ‘folds’ (North, South, East and West) which lie outside of the Carthaki Mountains and the Central Lands which lie within the protective mountain chain.
The North-fold stretches north from the Carthaki Mountains and runs along the edge of the Vanri basin as the northern frontier of Maristonia. The Vanri is similar to the Danube in Europe, but most of the North-fold is hills and forest, wild and sparsely populated.
The East-fold begins at Delarom Pass, the fortified ravine which offers passage through the mountains to the Central Lands, and stretches eastward to the ocean and the border with elven Kalimar. It is good, fertile farmland, the bread-basket of Maristonia and the region most heavily influenced by the elves, who lingered here longest after leaving the rest of Maristonia. Only in the east is there a real threat, where watch-towers line the hills shared by wild barbarian tribes of Swordhilt Peninsula.
The Central Lands lie within the mountains, fenced off from the outside world which makes communication and trade difficult. Nevertheless, this region contains a large proportion of the nation’s population and its capital city, Mariston. Spanning many great valleys running down from the mountains and bordered by the shores of Mariston Bay, the Central Lands run from Delarom Pass right down to the River Alicir in the south-west of the bay. This part of Maristonia has a distinctly Mediterranean climate and culture, heavily reliant on olive cultivation, wine production and internal trade across the bay, which is large enough to be almost an inland sea.
Mariston Bay is enclosed by the mountainous, ridge-spined peninsulas of Mastred and Carinen, named after two of the earliest armist chieftains. Rugged and sun-drenched, these peninsulas resemble parts of Greece and shelter inner Maristonia from the worst storms blowing in from the Troizon Ocean without.
Technically Carinen Peninsula is reckoned as part of the Central Lands, but Mastred Peninsula lies within the South-fold, which is the hottest and most dangerous part of Maristonia. Here is the semi-arid frontier with Lurallan, a hotbed of violent desert tribes with a long history of raids upon wealthy Maristonia. Many legions are stationed along the Antium River border to keep them out, but also to regulate the lucrative trade in oil, spices and dyes which go north and south in the interludes of uneasy peace. This part of Maristonia resembles the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire where its wealthy eastern provinces lay next to the deserts of Arabia.
Last of all is the West-fold, which spans the entire western seaboard of Maristonia from the Mandor Bight in the south to the vast estuary of the Vanri in the north. The Great North Road runs the length of the West-fold, linking Lurallan with Aranar and the other northern realms beyond the Vanri. Virtually all of Maristonia’s international trade departs from the West-fold, either by road from the commercial hub of Phoenix on the Vanri or by ship from great ports like Mandoas. Parts of the West-fold have an Iberian feel to them, rich seafaring ports facing a great ocean and enjoying a warm climate.
Maristonia was first explored by the intrepid elven Prince Avar in the ancient days of the First Chapter. Before the Great Wars broke out he rode its length and breadth in an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of new lands, and he made many maps and notes for the benefit of his brother Arvarion who came later.
After the Great Wars Prince Arvarion led a great migration south out of Kalimar, eager to found a new realm. He became king of a land known as Alanmar, which is ‘south-country’ in the elven language. This became one of several new kingdoms which sprang up outside of Kalimar but it was the only one in which new races were discovered.
Early in the Second Chapter the elves of Alanmar discovered two new races which had awoken on opposite sides of the Carthaki Mountains. The armists they found in the inner part of the range, whilst hundreds of miles away the forefathers of the dwarves were already busily carving out their subterranean realm of Carthak, from which the mountain-range took its name. The elves’ relationships with these new species would define the history of the Second Chapter and profoundly shape the future of Astrom.
Whilst the armists were enamoured of the elves and eager to learn from them, the dwarves were more wary and otherwise minded. The armists, who dwelt nearby, were virtually adopted as foster-children by the elves, taught and befriended and assimilated into their kingdom. The armists took on many aspects of the elven way of life, from speech, religion and political structures, though they still retained their own customs and practices.
The dwarves, on the other hand, lived out of sight, out of mind, hundreds of miles away. They were more different in temperament and stature, and these differences and distance bred suspicion and eventually hostility between the two races. After long centuries of growth, competition and rivalry the dwarves and elves finally came to blows in a dreadful conflict known as the Carthaki Wars. This was a blood-feud on a national scale and the clash of their well-matched armies wrought devastation across the southlands.
Armists fought on both sides, but mainly in allegiance to the elves, and ultimately they helped secure the elven victory. But it was a bittersweet triumph, for thousands lay dead, great heroes had fallen, cities lay ruined both above and below ground and the victors were forever estranged from the losers. Defeated but not destroyed, the dwarves retreated underground and forsook the outside world, remaining as a baleful presence in the north-west of what would soon become Maristonia.
The war ripped the heart and soul out of elven Alanmar, leaving it a withered husk of its former glory and deprived of many of its best and noblest leaders. King Arvarion and his brothers lay dead and many of the elven lords departed in sorrow, forsaking the blighted land. By a strange twist of history the crown passed to the ruling armist house of Harolin, then led by the renowned warrior Istilian, an ancestor of Curillian. The armists took over the governance of the realm, renaming it Maristonia after their capital. As the elves waned and departed, the armists waxed stronger and more numerous. Slowly their power spread and they were able to claim more and more of the old elven inheritance.
The Third Chapter for Maristonia is the story of how the armist kingdom gradually expanded to swallow up all of the old elven lands, though not before great struggles both with diverse elven principalities and amongst the armists themselves. As they rose to greater power and security so Maristonia was able to project itself abroad, becoming a great naval power in the Ship-king era and playing a vital role in the alliance which overthrew Urunmar in the First War of Kurundar.
The First War of Kurundar was followed by a failed experiment in unified government across all the realms of Astrom, the upshot of which meant that Maristonia, Aranar, Hendar, Ithrill, Ciricen and Kalimar each went their own way and remained uneasy neighbours ever after. Many wars they fought and many alliances they forged down the long centuries of the Third Chapter before the second rising of Kurundar forced them to co-operate again. Reluctantly Maristonia followed the lead of the Silver Empire, the personal crusade of Lancearon of Ithrill to unite the Free Peoples, willing or no.
Yet a mortal blow was struck against the enemies of Kurundar when a usurper seized the throne of Maristonia in the dying days of the Third Chapter, forcing the young Curillian into exile and splintering armist strength away from the life-and-death struggle against Kurundar in the north. Curillian performed many valiant deeds in exile in the service of the Silver Empire before he was able to reclaim his crown and lead Maristonia into the decisive confrontation with Urunmar.
Once again Kurundar was overthrown, but so too was the Silver Empire and in its wake the old nations struggled to rebuild themselves. Thus we enter the Fourth Chapter, almost the entire first half of which was spanned by Curillian’s long reign. Peace was not granted to Maristonia or any of her neighbours for long before Kurundar arose for the third time, casting the shadow of evil again over the entire continent. It is against this grim backdrop that Kulothiel takes the fateful decision to hold a Tournament at Oron Amular…