A treatise on the Millennium of Tears,
the Age of Despair
From Krator Hohl, a prisoner titled the Imperial Archaist, to the Argensian Emperor, Son of the Sun, Yula the First, his jailor
Foreword: I have been appointed by Your Luminance to redact a more coherent account of those elder days when Despair held the Lands in its grip. I have further been prohibited from addressing you, in this writing, by any but the barest of titles which are your due. Finally, I have been virtually imprisoned in this palace these past four months on your decree until said treatise is complete (though accorded every courtesy and want, excepting that I might return to my work in the Shimmering Mindsea unearthing the past with my hands, where Your Luminance did find me nearly a year ago).
I hasten therefore, to announce by this missive that the work is thankfully completed, including one brief Abstract which follows, summarizing the vast and scattered volume of previous works, titles, decrees, epic poems, folklore and other documentary evidence into a more concise body suited to a restless and impatient conscience. With this delivery, I beg His Radiance Yula, in light of my faithful and dedicated service, to release me forthwith that I might return to my excavations, wherein I may make further discoveries to delight his mind and of which I shall certainly hasten to apprise him.
Post-Script: Please do not trouble about the citations in the abstract. These numbered passages in parentheses are merely the system used to indicate the original location of the evidence- take their number to be a sign of my good intent, and have Morinack explain it to you if you become confused.
-Krator Hol, Imperial Archaist, 2002 ADR
Abstract: A Brief Account of the Age of Despair, in Answer to Questions Posed by the Emperor
Question Posed: Did Despair truly occupy the Lands as many as forty centuries ago? How extensive were their settlements in the days before the advent of Hope?
While the timeline of Despair’s occupation of these Lands of Hope is under some dispute, the evidence clearly indicates the geographic extent of their control to be far wider than many supposed. The strength of Despair’s grip on the Lands, in addition, may have been tighter than we all believed.
Though some aver an accelerated schedule of years (q.v. Valenthisson f.847, Fellareon f.712), the majority of Hope’s sages concur that Despair first landed on these shores some 4,000 years before the present day, at or about twenty centuries prior to the Battle of the Razor which forms the starting point of our modern calendar (and currently numbers to the year 2002 ADR). Determining the precise dates of ruins and artefacts must be considered an art-form, rather than a science. Despair built most often below ground, and using metal and stone in preference to wood; though it may shock the conscience, it must be admitted that the remnants of their culture (if that word may be used here) have often outlasted those built much more recently by the Children of Hope. The best single source for a general chronology of the nations remains the Kings-List maintained by disciples of Rallantan, but this makes no reference to the Lieges of Despair or the reigns of any kingdoms under them. Some (especially Creik f.412) maintain the Lieges never surrendered power over the course of the millennium their occupation lasted unopposed, and this seems reasonable in light of the long lives our Hopeful ancestors possessed.
Curiously, though Despair built heavily and hard, it does not appear they were particularly interested in permanence: the Hopelords knew more about preservation of items, through means both magical and mundane, than their enemies ever wielded. Despairing excavations universally show signs of wear, rot, rust and decay despite the sometimes ostentatious outlay, seen in such things as large metal doors, elaborate mechanisms to restrict passage or lock away quite small spaces, and more. In some few cases there have been reports (Hohl, f.736) of large heavy items completely replaced on a regular basis, and of barely-damaged replicas apparently discarded. As always, it is difficult to generalize with accuracy, but if the signs noted in these few cases were to be the common rule, then the rate at which Despair plundered and wasted the natural resources must have been staggering indeed.
The evidence of Despair’s original conquests, those north of the Great Cleft, are beyond dispute, confirmed a thousand times by accounts of the Hopeful kingdoms which struggled against them in the ensuing Age of Balance. Most sages similarly held that these were their sole holdings, and used as a great point by Argens, when he sponsored his expeditions to our Southlands in ancient times. For he did long contend that by coming to this land, whose empire now bears his name, the Children of Hope would avoid all taint of Despair’s presence and thereby establish the best and most lasting of kingdoms.
The cherished theory has died a long hard death, as The Son of the Sun himself is in position to affirm. Despair did indeed subdue the Southern country at some point during the millennium of their rule, though nothing can be said with certainty concerning which Liege took the rulership, or when the conquest was abandoned. Intuition and common sense ally in the suggestion that, as both Kun and Mauglir were frequently mentioned in opposition to Hope in the north, it may have been the third Liege, Pelundrag the lord of foul sorcery, who took dominion in the south.
Some of the most respected religious tomes (Berent f.25, 28, 29) argue for Pelundrag’s presence behind the scenes but still in the north, withdrawn and scheming though not ruling territory. But careful comparison of the linguistic style in this account (Fellareon, f.674) reveals that the metaphors and most of the argument closely mirrors that of ancient accounts of the Hopelord Araluntir, master of magic, who did indeed live mainly in seclusion in the Crystal City while making his advice known to the other Heroes in council. Thus the theory that Pelundrag remained in the north is largely discredited.
Other sages (Averar, f.312 and several later students of lesser note) forwarded the thesis that it was the rustic Bedou-uu who did most, or even all, the civilized construction of the Southern lands found by the colonists of Argens. He was roundly rejected in his day (by those who, like Ler’ytrar, offered no alternate theory yet dismissed the physical evidence). But several more recent authorities (Sallis, f.844, B’renta, f.822, and Hohl, f.734, 736 and others) have so thoroughly documented finds of civilized constructs, weaponry, enchantments and most importantly artefacts with Despairing auras, no doubt can remain that at least some form of traffic existed between the southern rustics and our ancient foe.
All ways forward here are tangled. Based on style, there is clear evidence of an ornate and intricate décor among certain ruins found on the Shimmering Mindsea. These were in the main above-ground stone constructions or only subterranean to a minor depth. Other finds, generally at deeper levels, show classic Despairing themes of power, simplicity and mechanistic motifs. And a few scattered discoveries show signs of a mingling of styles. Taken together this argues that for a time predating contact with Despair, the Bedou-uu people had the ability to work in stone and perhaps metal, which then competed against and finally comingled with settlements and preferences of the invaders.
All opinions on the chronology of this hypothetical contact history are open to debate, thus the author will select his own (Hohl, f. 736). The Bedou-uu built in stone during the early days of the Age of Despair, perhaps 3,900-3,700 years before the present day. For another three centuries, Despair was physically present in the southern lands, and physically subdued at least the greater part of the rustic tribes, perhaps leaving some in technical freedom in return for trade or tribute. No later than 3,200 years before the present day, the conquering forces of Despair were withdrawn, perhaps in prescience of the landing of Hope to the north; leaving behind a mingled culture of Bedou-uu with lingering influences of Despair in its architecture and likely language, customs, devotion practices and more.
There is ample evidence, then, of Despair’s conquest over the vast majority of the territory currently benefitting from the rule of Hope. It remains to be seen how closely held these territories were and the extent of damage done to the Lands by their centuries of unopposed presence.
It must be admitted, in the first place, that the history of the crowns of both the northern kingdoms and the southern empire has been one of unbroken apathy on the subject. Through the ages, worthy monarchs who focused closely on the happiness and preservation of their people, were decidedly incurious as to the ravages of Despair, or to the possibility, however slight, that remnants of their presence still haunted its remoter corners. The great heroes of that first blessed generation dispatched their enemies at the Battle of the Razor, it is held without question. After a brief period- by tradition, from ADR 1-19, far less than a mortal man’s adult life- in which the entire Lands were presumably set to rights, these heroes disappeared from us, never to be seen again in the flesh (excepting the first Son of the Sun Argens himself, who sailed south to establish our Empire before vanishing as well, some century or so later). Since that day, our kingdoms have known peace and prosperity for the most part, yet those showing curiosity about the deeper past have met receptions between indifference and outright suspicion. Only in the current climate, when the deeds of adventurers have brought so much tumult to kingdoms everywhere, can such work proceed and be brought to light (under such enlightened patronage, of course, as the current Emperor of the Southlands, may he reign for centuries).
The indications of Despair’s rule are grim indeed.
It is quite clear that they burrowed down, into earth and under mountains, not simply to fortify certain positions against their enemy but to live out their lives, in preference to open air and high places. These fortresses, known as tombs, were in some cases extensive beyond common thought, as amply proven by the recent exploration of Jengesalamur in the Shimmering Mindsea (Hohl f.735). Persistent rumors of a massive tomb named Thanazun in the northern kingdoms, allegedly never discovered or conquered and home to one of the great thanes of Despair, the one who first mastered undeath, can be neither proven nor disproven. But there have been frequent finds of widespread kemetaria, where Despair braved the foulest indignity and buried the bodies of their dead intact within the earth: here in the south they were seen both in the Mindsea and the settled lands, leading some to argue (Averar, f.312) that this horrid practice actually sourced with the Bedou-uu. But preliminary finds of dated writing in the language and alphabet of Despair make plain that this custom originated with the enemy, and from a very early date, prior to the landing of Hope.