Midvalen: A land of stories, a tapestry of wars fought for love, romances edged in steel, intrigues bled into our bones. We are a people of deep history, a people who remember. We are our mother, the Goddess Ashua, who rocked us in her arms; and her son, brave Yariel, for whom she cried the oceans into being. We are the veil of fog, the clash of swords, and most of all the blood that beats so loud below the breast. To know us is to understand the fire of love, and to crave more. Read the Chronicles, and remember with us.
Once, and Again, and Forever In each of our heartbeats, the chronicle of our history is being written. Listen, and feel, and remember.
Every Journey Begins With a Single Step Ashua, she of bones and silt, wept when Yariel her son died. The very earth fled from her grief, and tripped and crashed into mountains and valleys. The air shook with her sorrow, and river and lakes formed from her tears.
In Ashua’s Arms The people of Sanitos make a duty of religion, but Miranovs make a romance of it. Sephrians exalt Yariel for his wild adventures and his brave heart, while in Marabour it is said that Midvalen is Ashua – that her bones are the stones of the ground and her sigh is the sky.
Once, in the times before, a hundred nations sung independence songs, and a hundred monarchs held feasts to their Gods, and a hundred armies jostled along small borders, little more than city states. It is said that one such monarch, a clever young man with so much steel in his soul that it seeped into his hair, met a stunning woman on a mountain top. Her eyes were deep like mountain caves, and the tilt of her head was so graceful that he knew her for a princess, though she would not tell him from where she had come.
“Tell me your kingdom,” he told her.
“Why?” she asked. “So you can take it, and thus take me?”
They say that she kissed him, though no one knows why; and they say that she left him, though no one knows why; and they say that he hunted her, and this we know why.
First he conquered beautiful Santita, with its tours and spinnerets; but she was not there. So he came for the ancient city of Edelphium, whose walls were said to soar a mile into the air; but she was not there. Like a fist his army scattered soldiers; like a noose his hands deposed one monarch after another. They say it took only thirty years for every city to fall; even the wild northern lands, where whole armies perished in the mountain ranges. But she was not there.
Some say the empire was made as a gift, an apology, a prayer. But she did not come. And some say, when the wind howls particularly fiercely, that he is looking still.
For twelve generations the Sanitos empire ruled the land of Midvalen. They were times of enlightment; of learning, philosophy, art, and education. But so too were they times of bloodshed, cruelty, and tyranny. Those in power reaped the rewards of unity, but those beneath their boots struggled for life, for breath, for peace. A thousand Gods died, forgotten; a thousand families dreamed of the freedoms they had lost. And so with dreams; and so with cruelty; and so the empire fell.
Ahhh, ashes and blood, and years of death. The Red Days, over one hundred years of madness as the Empire gasped in its death throes. If Ashua’s grief made mountains, the empire’s death made nations. It birthed the four sisters, who would drag themselves from the thick black mud of dirt and blood and stand, dripping and shivering, at last in the light. They are their parents’ children; Ashua their mother and Sanitos their father. But like rebellious teenagers some have strayed as far from home as they dared, while others cling to their mother’s skirts, afraid to be forgotten.
Marabour. Miranov. Sephria. Sanitos. Warring sisters, jealous and full of love; though they grew up under the same parents, they are now grown, and distant; and their differences are stark and sudden. Beyond Midvalen, a thick fog blankets the Great Ocean. Scholars agree other lands lurk in the fog, savage places of beasts and demons, and the fog was placed by Ashua herself to keep us safe.
Marabour: Rimed with frost and kneaded by determined hands, Marabour is protected from her sisters’ intrigues and politics by high, difficult mountain ranges, and behind that protection she hunkers down, taking part in only basic trade. Hers is a savage life, too busy struggling for survival to waste much time on contemplation. Her body is formed from lumber and iron; she wears the furs of her trade, and plies the ocean to bring gifts to her sisters.
Marabour is a monarchy, but she listens to the advice of a council of elders who convene for the summer from every village and town across her difficult terrain. She believes that a connection to the land is fundamental for survival and joy, and that her Synecdoches (the monarchs) are avatars of Ashua. Though many in Marabour still speak Sanitas, the nation’s official tongue is Marab, and there are fourteen different languages spoken across the small nation. Her people are dark of skin and hair and light of heart, prone to violence and poetry and instinctual things. Many in the surrounding reaches of Midvalen consider them savages, but they scoff and laugh, knowing they have found Truth.
Miranov: A place of contradictions and complacency, Miranov is perhaps the least jaded by her parents’ fall. She still speaks Sanitas, the tongue of her forbearers, and trades warily with her sisters, with whom she has often violently clashed. She is a bountiful land, full of hilltops, fields, and lakes. Her skin is wheat and barley, her hair flaxen oats, and she wraps herself in cotton and wool. Her riches are fiercely protected by steel, bought at great expense from her northern neighbour.
In Miranov family is honoured above all else. Life centers around the hearth, and wealth, position, even property is decided by the size and strength of the family line. Households are run as partnerships, and any family that does not have accord at its head is doomed to failure.
It is said that Yariel’s seed contains life, and to spill it unnecessarily is an affront to the gods. As such young men are guarded carefully by their families, and women are admonished not to tempt or seduce them. Relations between women are encouraged as a way of keeping men pure until marriage, but as such unions cannot produce children, they are to be discarded before marriage.
Sephria: Land of nobles. Land of Kings. Labaci, now Sephira’s capital, was once the largest and richest of the city-states. Legend says her armies fought with the spirit of wild animals in their chests, and her fall took over a decade. During the Red Years Labaci grew as a wild weed does, claiming all she touched, and named herself Sephira after the fifth star in Yariel’s constellation; that of his heart. Sephrians grow little but create much, from beautiful tapestries to the finest, clearest burning lamp oil in Midvalen. They rely on trade, and unrest with their neighbours hits the populace hard, though happens often.
Sephrians speak their own language, and consider those who still speak Sanitas weak. Her society is a house of cards, each noble balanced on the backs of those below, but their long history of nobility and grace gives the structure strength. In Sephira they honour the family, and consider any relationships outside of marriage to be a dangerous distraction. Punishments for those who stray can be harsh, from public lashings to jail.
Sanitos: The last remnants of a great Empire, Sanitos considers herself the motherland, never realising she has drifted so far from the empire who birthed her that she is barely its daughter. A harsh, dry, hot place, her people suffer, and remember the time of the Empire through rose-tinted glass, which they bake from the hot sands around them. Her clothes are tattered silk, her skin laced with spice, and she trades memories.
Philosophers and scholars rule Sanitos in uneasy peace with their zealot King, who hides in temples and texts, uneasy with the world. Religion rules Sanitos, and Ashua is a stern mother, unforgiving and unsympathetic. In Sanitos Ashua is mother and father, King and guardian, and all must bow to her wisdom. Ashua is family, and nothing comes secondary to that.
Before the Empire, Ashua was only one of several gods and goddesses worshipped in Midvalen; but since then other religions have all but disappeared. Rumour says isolated villages here and there worship in the old ways, but we of the cities and towns, of the villages and courts, hold Ashua and Yariel close in our hearts.
Once, in the times before, many Gods and Goddesses lived in the light above the sky. Time did not touch them there, and all fates could be unwoven; so there was no danger, and no change. Yariel was young, and wild and brave, and he longed to explore the land below. “Do not go,” Ashua told him, “for the land below is dark, and the skies above are bright.”
He heard her, but his heart was wild, and young and brave, and no one had ever walked upon the earth, smelled grass below their feet. And so he went below, and others followed, and the Gods and Goddesses danced for a time on the wide flat plains, and played for a time in the sun.
But time moved in the land below, and danger was possible there; strange beasts walked the surface of the world, and these beasts did not like the Gods and Goddesses. And so war came, as war is wont to do. Ashua begged Yariel to return to the light in the sky, where there was safety, but there was still so much to see! and so he stayed, and fought.
And, as such things go, the time came when a battle too great came to Yariel. Some say he was betrayed by a jealous, clever God; others say he was ambushed by a murder of beasts. Oh, when he died! How Ashua wept.
Her tears made the ocean, and washed the beasts away to islands and lands beyond Midvalen; her grief shook the land below, and turned the plains into mountains and valleys, deserts and tundra. Small beasts she let live, so they might roam and be hunted by Yariel’s followers; and large ones she slaughtered, until the ground was coated in red, and from it bloomed flowers and trees.
Yariel she placed gently in the sky, so his light would always shine upon the ground below; and seven maidies went with him, seven children pure of heart, so he would never be alone. Most of the Gods and Goddesses left the world, choosing the safety of the light above the sky. For letting her son die, Ashua cursed those who remained, and took from them their Grace. They were left them weak and mortal, and so were humans born. And when her anger left her Ashua stayed too, the light of the day, to guard her son’s comrades, and their children, and their children too, for all time.
Map image copyright Corren Montagna, 2015.