The Southlands, or the Argensian Empire
Since the first stories coming out about the Lands (in the “Shards of Light” series) are set in the Empire of Argens, a few words here might prove useful to the reader. You can refer to the maps of The Southern Empire and The North Mark for more details. These stories take place in the winter and spring of 2002 ADR.
The physical barriers of the Great Cleft and Shimmering Mindsea on land, and a difficult passage in contrary seas, have made travel between the northern kingdoms and the southern Empire difficult. The first to brave the voyage was Argens, second son of Ma-Eldar the Hopelord of Elves, who scouted out the coasts south of the Cleft in the years just before the Battle of the Razor. He proclaimed his intention to return there, but all plans were set aside when that great conflict arose. After the victory, when the Hopelords mooted their plan to invade the far East, Argens was chief of those dissenting voices. With many followers primarily of the Elven race, he set out on a much larger voyage of colonization and founded the Southern Empire in his name, beginning in the year 20 ADR. The legends tell that Argens brought with him a mystic flame, taken from a piece of the scorching sun itself which fell to earth, which still burns fiercely without fuel, lighting the Palace of the Sun in the capital city of Argens.
The lands of the Empire are lush and fertile, even in mountainous or swampy terrain; the climate varies from semi-tropical through to desert heat- even the dead of winter is mild without snow. The rustic peoples were originally numerous and included several nations of black Men as well as the near-giant Nubian race; to the desert were the Bedou-uu people, and in the farthest eastern and southern quarters may have lived a mysterious race of dark-skinned Elves. At first, it appeared the touch of Despair had spared this part of the world, but in later years, Argens and his followers discovered deeply buried, long-abandoned ruins in places. Argens conquered most of the native people and brought a brilliant civilization to the land- his kingdom was very rich and prospered from the beginning.
The career of Argens was so wide-ranging and heroic that his admirers could not agree on a single way to do him reverence. Even in his lifetime, statues of the Son of the Sun, as he came to be known, were erected in halls that later became churches to his memory. Argens Hopeforger, the pioneer, war-leader and lawmaker, vied with Argens Stargazer, the navigator, virile chieftain of an enormous household and prescient astrologer. In a third guise, Argens Demonbender was known as the most aggressive conqueror of enemy nations, and the lord of such deep magical lore that demons and other spirits of the earth were forced to do his bidding. A dozen other, smaller sects to Argens sprang up during his rule as well.
After reigning more than a century in which he explored every corner of his new empire and established the feudal order that survives to the present day, Argens disappeared in the same sudden fashion that the Hopelords of the northern kingdoms had done. His five sons all found ways to lose their lives in less than a century, one on a voyage south, another making war against the Bedou-uu, and so forth. Unlike their manly father, none of them found time to have a legitimate son, so the line of Argens abruptly died away.
The Throne of the Sun passed to other noble lines in turn, usually after a brief contest of strength between disputing noble elves, until the ascension of Viridian in the thirteenth century ADR. The Viridian dynasty remained secure through more than two dozen rulers, each of the same name, down to Viridian XXVI in the late1900s ADR. Under their rule, the empire became luxuriant and exotic but also daring in the extreme. Experimentation with drugs became widespread, and the sect of Argens Demonbender held absolute sway over all other churches. Slavery, once practiced only on conquered rustics and for a temporary period in lieu of gaol, became permanent and levied on all manner of unfortunate souls, even for debt. The South Mark shrank under misrule and the encroachment of the southern jungle, while the Far Mark became gradually depopulated and was abandoned in the 1600s. But the remaining two earldoms of the North Mark and Inmark, in addition to the Imperial Domain near the capital city, flourished with prosperity. The rule of Viridian XXVI was especially opulent and filled with spectacle, but autocratic beyond anything the people could recall.
The Viridian dynasty was brought to a sudden end by the rebellion of Yula, an adventurer from the northern kingdoms, who rose up against the emperor in the year 2000. Aided by his sorcerous allies and northern mercenaries, Yula quickly raised an army from freed slaves and gladiators as well as some of the empire’s disaffected nobles, and won a series of brilliant victories in which the dynasty was exposed. Viridian XXVI and his forebears had, in fact, been demons in disguise, holding the southern throne for Despair. A small number of elven nobles were in collusion, but the vast majority had been unaware of the deception, which likely stretched over centuries. At the Battle of Tor Perite in the month of the Serpent in 2001 ADR, Yula’s forces triumphed over the majority of the empire’s feudal levy, plus their garruk and demonic allies who had remained in hiding until this moment. With the victory, a landless adventurer and his closest peers took control of the Empire of the Sun; the surviving elvish knighthood was too weak and shocked to resist.
Since taking the throne, Yula has outlawed the worship practices of the Demonbender cult, and once again permitted the reverence of Telhol the Healer. In a thunderous decision, he freed slaves everywhere regardless of cause; some of Viridian’s prisoners included nobles who had been held in durance (and thought dead) for centuries. He interdicted the drug trade, at least by decree. Then just as discontent threatened to boil over into a second civil war, Yula announced the recolonization of the Far Mark, with generous bounties paid from the vast Imperial Treasury to anyone who wished to chance the long trip and the dangers. Perhaps two hundred thousand souls left to try for a new life, and the resentment of most elves towards the usurper has smoldered at an acceptable level into the new year 2002 ADR.