The Glorious History of Aathenaar
by Repatia of Rookwood Falls, high bard designate to Baron Brange Aathenaar
Translated by Greg Landgraf
Translator’s note: Unicorn City takes place in a small village known as Aathenaar, on a world known as Coventra. We have discovered and translated this work, commissioned by Baron Brange of Aathenaar shortly before the events related in the play. Three Legged Race offers it here, in 18 parts, in hopes that those who attend the show will find it of interest to learn how the town came to be. The history should be valuable to scholars due to its wide scope–covering a period of time from the creation of the world to modernity–but the reader should keep in mind that as it was commissioned by a significant player in some of its events, certain stories may be less reliable than they would be if told by a truly independent historian.
One might, if he or she desired to dabble in abstraction, visualize the Universe as a great expanse of stone or brick or wood, stretching in all four directions to dimensions only limited by the mind’s conception. And perhaps one could stand–mentally, if not physically–in the center of this expanse, and wonder at its bigness, but one would not.
For this expanse is dotted by holes, some tiny and some massive, and it is the indelible nature of all persons to notice such holes, and to wonder what can and must be done to fill them. And in such way are all works, great and tiny, created, from the mother preparing a bowl of stew with love for her brood of children and pets, to the construction of mighty cathedrals, to the recording of great Histories.
If mere mortals may find these gaps in the Universe and do what they must to fill them, then why would we expect the Gods to be any different? The answer is simple: We must not, for we are Created in their image, and They in ours, and our minds are therefore intertwined like a black-and-redfruit tree and its slinkervine.
Our Gods, beloved Letitia and stalwart Harvey, conceived of our world Coventra in sadness. They lived for tens of thousands of years amongst others of their kind on a massive spinning dirt square known as Earth. Harvey had a deeply industrious nature, while Letitia was more light-hearted, so Harvey fed Letitia’s body, and Letitia fed Harvey’s soul, but Earth provided for both needs in abundance, and both knew joy.
But one day a God was found dead, and they all gathered in one tiny field to discuss this unprecedented event. The only agreement they could reach was that they must discover the perpetrator of this act, but none knew who it was.
The discussion lasted for sixty-seven hours, until one of the Gods named Ralph decided to speak. “I believe I know who did this to us all,” he declared. He pointed directly at Harvey’s eyes. “It was him, and let any contradict me who have better evidence!”
But none did, and the Gods immediately agreed that Harvey must have been the actor. Only Letitia kept any faith in her friend, but her cries were drowned by the roar of the rest of the Gods.
The Gods immediately decided that Harvey must be removed from Earth, and in an instant, he was. All was blackness and cold, and Harvey wept tears that did not fall and were not wet.
And then a tiny light appeared, and it grew and became blindingly bright, and from it burst beloved Letitia, for Paradise without Love is not Paradise, and so her choice was simple.
The light exploded with dirt, and our Gods spent many days assembling each grain into the World that we know. They created but one bit of life, however: The first person, Alatia, was the last of their works that we know of, and as they breathed life into her they disappeared into heavens of which we cannot conceive. But we know that Harvey and Letitia are still working, for they promised Alatia that one day they would bring her, and all of her children to Earth with them, where they could revel in all of its Four Corners.
And it is that which drives all of our actions today.
The land was dark, a brown mass, devoid of life apart from Alatia. But she grew hungry, and as she had no other option, she tasted the dirt.
But the dirt’s flavor was painfully bright, and Alatia was forced to sneeze it out, and each piece flew into the heavens, forming the suns and moons and stars.
One of these stars grew dim, and it teetered and flickered in the sky before falling lifeless to Alatia’s breast. Alatia wept for the dead star, and she continued for a thousand days and nights, and when she finally stopped she discovered that the world was now possessed of rivers and lakes and streams and oceans.
Exhausted though she was from her tearful ordeal, Alatia felt she must do something for this fallen star still clinging to her bosom. And so she ran throughout the world, kicking dirt into mountains and valleys as she went, until she found a stream whose gentle burbling reminded her of all the songs yet to be written. It was here that she dug a shallow grave for the star, and buried it, and finally collapsed from exhaustion.
When Alatia woke, the world was covered in all of the plants of the world: tall grasses made the land bright, and tiny algae gave the oceans breath, and the flowering shrubs painted the world with joy, and trees–the mightiest of which grew from the spot where the star had been buried, provided it with strength.
Ravenous with hunger, Alatia feasted on the grains and fruits and vegetables and tubers and legumes until she was quite rotund with satisfaction. she rested against the star tree, pregnant with joy.
Within a few moments, her stomach began to rumble, and the contractions of labor began. She had turned one of the beans into a tiny lizard, which she delivered without pain. It coughed wisps of flame as it scurried toward a mountain to build its lair.
Alatia was still engorged with life, however. A sprig of garlic had grown into a fisherbird that sped out of her left earlobe. A pear became a baby rhinoceros that grew in her femur and charged out from between her toes. A lion roared out from her stomach, and a trout flopped out of her forehead, and a clam emerged from the small of her back. In this way, over the next several hours, were the animals of the world born–save one.
For in all of these deliveries, not once was Alatia delivered of a person.
She failed to weep at this sadness, which was more profound than tears could express. But the wise and true unicorn, the last of the animals she had born, understood. It trotted to Alatia, lowered its horn, and touched her stomach, and she was pregnant once again, this time with the twelve men and women who would found all of civilization.
Alatia smiled at the unicorn as it trotted into the forest, knowing she would not see this highest of creatures again, but also that its spirit would reside in all people forevermore.
With their fast speed, ability to fly over rough terrain, and utter lack of discretion over where and how they lived, the ancient sprites were the first to explore Coventra fully. It is for this reason that so many places on our world bear names from their language.
Some of the names that they gave were logical, such as the great mountain Eeren, which in their language simply means “great mountain.” Other places were given a whimsical name, or they were named after their discoverer, or perhaps the discoverer’s beloved.
And many places went unnamed, for the race of sprites is prone to flitting about and not finishing tasks.
But one sprite lord named Ator saw the rest of the animals spreading across the land, and realized the opportunity the sprites were on the edge of losing. Ator gathered the sprites of the world together, and they brought drawings of all the places yet to be named, in hopes that by combining their abilities they might finish the task.
After a few unproductive moments, a sprite named Zelda suggested that wine might aid the process.
This suggestion was more successful than anyone might have predicted. The first place named under this scheme was Leondara, which comes from the sprites’ word for the particular sound a cork makes as it comes out of a wine bottle. Names such as Gyagyagya come from the peculiar glugging sound that wine makes as it comes out of the bottle, and Chajji, their term for a sprite who believes she is flying between two trees, but is actually bouncing off of one tree into the other.
Dances were invented in this state of intoxication, both aerial and terrestrial, and their names became place names as well. And when they grew weary of dancing, many of the sprites broke off into pairs, or sometimes groups small or large, and allowed the drink to guide their friskier urges.
This segment of the meeting was particularly productive, giving names as diverse as Yarbadou, which means, in our tongue, “Fasterharder”, or Pinge, which means “wrong hole!”
In fact, only one place on all of Coventra remained unnamed after this night (and day and night again). It was a difficult territory, rough and rugged, with land fertile enough just for survival, where only the strongest and most noble of people could live. This last land was named some weeks later, when one of the youngest sprites discovered that, much against her wishes, she was with child. And so she screamed a lament, such as any young woman in that situation might, and that lament comes down to us today as “Aathenaar.”
No doubt it will not be long before a man of courage and vision realizes the wisdom of changing Aathenaar’s name to something more appropriate.
Alatia, the Mother of all creatures, was also a mother in the more traditional sense. She raised the twelve boys and girls to whom she had given birth conscientiously, and few could claim to have happier childhoods. But she also trained them diligently, for she knew that they were destined to populate the world, and they would have to do so without her constant guidance.
When her children were fourteen, she gathered them together. “My beloveds,” she began, “It is time for you to know your higher purpose. It is your duty to spread the race of man throughout the land.”
Her children all nodded, for while they had not been told this before, they were each possessed of intelligence and had suspected something like this.
The next day, after embracing their mother, and each other, the Twelve Children of Alatia set out. Rawz, the eldest, headed to the eastern forests to make her home among the trees, where her industrious nature could find magnificent raw materials with which to work. Zacharai traveled through those forests to the eastern shore, from whence he planned to stage great explorations of the seas. But he was as lazy as Rawz was industrious, and he never got further than dreaming while relaxing along the shore—a trait shared by his descendants. Cavin too settled along the shore, in the west; he made no pretensions of exploration, but instead established the beginnings of a thriving fishing industry.
Colm opted for the northern mountains, for he enjoyed wearing luxurious furs. Liekei chose for herself the highlands at the foot of Colm’s territory, which would allow her to appeal to her brother’s goodwill for whatever needs she did not wish to provide for herself.
Elba selected the inhospitable central deserts, for she enjoyed the solitude afforded by the harsh landscape and felt sympathy for the creatures that lived there and were so unfairly despised. Zoological pursuits also shaped Naiar’s decision to live in the southwestern jungle, for he loved all creatures, and nowhere else were there so many of so many types.
Quend claimed that the fertile plains of the south matched her flaxen hair, which was true, but she also had the greatest connection to the land and the ability to coax from it the greatest bounty. Anders was quite the least liked of the siblings, and it was suggested that he might find friends among the snakes and lizards of the eastern marsh.
The Salty Shemork Lake (named for the sound a female sprite makes upon discovering the pleasure of the touch of another female) in the northwest became the home of Uutra, who developed it into a peaceful idyll. And surprisingly, this feat was nearly matched by the western lowlands, which was made first habitable and then beautiful by a series of cunning engineering works on the part of Jaara.
But one region of the entire world was left, and that was the difficult territory of Aathenaar. Alatia called to her Marion, the youngest and most beloved of her sons.
“You will live in Aathenaar,” she said, “and you and your descendants shall make it great, for you are truly the finest of my creations, and so you are the best for the hardest job.”
Marion bowed in silent acknowledgment of this speech. When he got to Aathenaar he immediately began shaping the land, turning it into something hospitable, though even the fiber of the dirt tried to fight back.
Like all tasks worthy of effort, this one was greater than one man’s lifetime. It endures today, continued by the people of Aathenaar, with grace, fortitude, and aplomb.
The Twelve Children of Alatia had children of their own, and thus did the race of man thrive upon Coventra. But just as wherever the fengra mushroom sprouts, eventually will grow up a grove of occa trees, tensions developed between the Twelve’s descendants as their numbers grew.
It was a delegation from Anders’ marshy territory that started the unpleasantness. They had journeyed to the western lowlands, where Jaara’s tribe had flourished, hoping to convince them to abandon reason and trade the prodigious fruits that their orchards produced for the bitter mush that was all that grow in the swamps.
Negotiations never even began, however, for the delegation viewed what clever Jaara’s tribe had built — the magnificent monuments, the stately temples, and the peaceful parks that seemed to glow from within — and became insanely jealous. Upon gaining an audience with Carry, the chief of the tribe, one of the envoys named Serrer declared: “It is clear to us that you are unworthy of what you have wrought, and that we are. Therefore, we are at war.”
Without awaiting response, the marsh delegation turned as one and marched out of the frescoed town hall.
Word spread, and each of the Twelve tribes found themselves on one side of the dispute or the other, or both simultaneously, (as happened with Liekei’s tribe, which had followed Colm’s and supported Jaara’s tribe, but with an undercurrent of dissatisfaction because many thought this would be an issue that would let them break free of their mountain cousins‘ influence) or sometimes creating brand-new sides (as Cavin’s children did; by declaring that war could only hurt their fishing and attempting to remain neutral, they made enemies of all.)
Throughout Coventra, all effort went toward fashioning weapons, and training armies, and planning strategies, and posting guards to defend against the invaders who had once been brothers and sisters. This went on for many months, while fields lay unsown and fruits unharvested. People grew hungry and starved, and buildings fell into disrepair, and society seemed on the verge of crumbling.
Eventually, the mischievous sprites grew weary of watching the race of man waste away like this. “If you wish to be at war,” they said, “it is not enough to merely prepare for an invasion. Eventually, someone must actually invade.”
But the race of man was not accustomed to taking direction from sprites, and declared that it would conduct this war on its own terms. While most of the tribes were satisfied to say that, Bax, the wise chief of the tribe of Marion, and a direct ancestor to our beloved Baron Brange, wanted more. He gathered representatives from each of the Twelve tribes together under a banner of truce and made the following appeal:
“We must put aside our differences, if not for ourselves than to prove that we shall not be manipulated by sprite or goblin or any other inferior race. I propose that we achieve peace.”
This statement was so full of wisdom, and Bax so persuasive, that the representatives of the Twelve tribes unanimously and immediately agreed to it.
Bax was a wise and visionary leader, and his peace proposal was almost undoubtedly the single most beneficial moment in Coventra’s history. As magnificent as his idea was, however, he was still a single man, and even though all Twelve tribes agreed to it, he would be unable to carry it out singlehandedly.
Great men and women realize their limitations and take steps to counter them. So Bax knew that he must institute a system of advisors and deputies to lead the peace. Each of the Twelve tribes had by this point, developed some rudiments of modern aristocracy, with Courts and therefore courtiers, as well as basic bureaucracies, with regulations and administrators.
Bax considered these assets, and wisely dismissed them as inappropriate for the job. Courtiers, after all, are unreliable, willing to bend any principle in their desperate attempt to curry favor with their rulers. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, are far too rigid, petty tyrants over their tiny, tiny policies, and far too slow in any event. And administrators are treacherous, with hundreds of private agendas and rivalries waiting at any juncture to sabotage peace.
Seeing that the tools he had to face the problem were insufficient, Bax took what is undoubtedly the second greatest act of Coventra’s history: He developed a new tool, one that could inspire the populace towards the cause of peace, one beholden to nothing other than that cause, and one that could move nimbly to serve that cause.
That tool was the Bard’s Guild.
It was headquartered on the western shore, in the village of Coral. (This was, as you will recall, the territory of Cavin’s descendents; in the Very Bad War they were completely without allies and therefore needed the Guild most of all.) Lest any other region grow jealous, however, Bax decreed that bardhood would be a profession of travelers. “The bards shall travel throughout the land,” he declared, “and through their magnificent tales shall they spread the word of peace directly to the peoples of the world.”
This notion could hardly have been more successful. Those first bards attacked their mission with the industry of an apple-bug preparing for the winter. They crisscrossed the land, and wherever they traveled, crowds would assemble to hear their stories. Invariably those crowds would be delighted, and inspired, and leave with hearts committed to the cause of peace.
And so it was that within a year, through the efforts of these traveling heroes, peace was achieved throughout the land.
With peace instituted throughout the world of Coventra, civilization had the opportunity to flourish. And so it did for thousands of years, as war never again dragged its bitter claw across the land.
But, as such things sometimes transpire, tensions settled below the surface, so that neighboring regions would grin to each other’s faces while awaiting the opportunity to stab each other, in a purely metaphorical sense.
Such a thing happened with Aathenaar and Freedampton. The two towns were each other’s nearest neighbors, standing less than two leagues apart. But in temper they could not have been more distant. Where the people of Aathenaar were humble, those of Freedampton were haughty. Freedamptonites were lazy while Aathenaarians were industrious. And Aathenaar’s populace lived in homes made of the district’s fine mud, while Freedampton’s had to live in houses of garish stone or wood, with windows that exposed one’s most private moments to the entire world.
“How many Freedamptonites does it take to play a game of backgammon?” went a popular Aathenaar joke at the time. “Thirteen: two to play, two to shout out their instructions, four to roll the dice, two to move the pieces, two to pay everybody’s wages, and one to work the doubling cube.”
Freedamptonites would counter by facetiously claiming that Aathenaarians were so fundamentally subnormal that they found it impossible to deliver a joke in fewer than five breaths—a patently absurd suggestion, since so gifted were the Aathenaarians in the art of joke-telling that they could deliver the entire backgammon punchline in no more than two.
Of course, this rivalry had implications beyond mere hurt feelings. In trade, for example, both villages were fierce competitors, with Freedampton’s merchants claiming superiority of their occa wood and tocic stone to Aathenaar’s excellent selection of muds, while Aathenaar made the obvious questions about Freedampton’s offerings’ permanence and about the ethics of extracting those materials whatsoever.
Despite the wisdom of Aathenaar’s position, other merchants were dazzled by the Freedamptonite’s glib words and tawdry showmanship. Freedampton experienced a boom of wealth such as had never been seen.
Occasionally a Freedamptonite, no doubt drunk from his revelries, would make the trek to Aathenaar, dressed as quite the dandy in the finest silks, for no purpose but to gloat of his wealth. The people of Aathenaar would typically greet this boastfulness by reaching down to grab two handfuls of mud and splattering it across his garments, but as often as not, the immodest Freedamptonite would simply strip his muddy clothes and declare “Keep it! I have dozens more at home!”
While Aathenaarians agreed that they always got the better of these exchanges, the intrusions were nevertheless a distraction from the peaceful and efficient life the town had become accustomed to.
Early one morning the town was awoken by a cry such as no one had ever heard before. Most residents grumbled at this new turn that Freedampton’s incitements had taken, but those who investigated discovered that the noise came from a very different source: A young Aathenaarian woman named Cilla.
Cilla explained her plan to the crowd that had assembled, and they agreed as one to carry it out at once.
Such a flurry of industry was seen that day! The town divided itself into rudimentary committees. Some took on the arduous task of drawing water from the town’s well, coming dangerously close to draining it. Some of the older or less fit townspeople helped by mixing supplies, while a great many took shifts at transporting materials.
Young children got involved in the labor, and those who were truly too young shouted their encouragement to their friends and parents. Even babies too young to walk or speak seemed to understand the momentousness of the town’s activity, and they collectively put a moratorium on crying and screaming and soiling themselves for the day.
At the end of the long day, the people of Aathenaar had produced bucketfuls of their finest, purest mud, and delivered it to the field containing the town’s finest livestock. A ballot was held to select the finest of the cows for use in Cilla’s plan; each resident put his own cow first and an enormous Northern White named Staf second. With no clear winner, a lottery was held, and a noble brown-and-black cow, also named Staf, was chosen to be the centerpiece of the plan.
Staf was about to become the Aathenaarian Cow.
The townspeople applied copious amounts of their fine mud to Staf’s body, until he was coated so thoroughly that one could only identify him by the particular calmness in his soul. Then they added more mud, and some more, until it was all applied. Cilla took her finger, and using it as a feather quill she wrote in this mud the words “Ha ha.”
Barely able to contain their high spirits, the people of Aathenaar brought their candles to light the path to Freedampton. Outside of town, they hid behind a hill while Cilla entered and raised a crowd.
“Good people of Freedampton!” she cried. “The people of Aathenaar believe that friendship is a far more noble path than antipathy, and we therefore desire to end our town’s rivalry. We wish to present you with a gift to show our regard.”
This said, Cilla led the assembled crowd to the base of the hill behind which Staf was waiting. She gave a signal to the lookout waiting atop the hill, who in turn gestured that the crowd should bring Staf up.
Staf was a quite compliant beast and climbed the hill with little struggle. When he reached the top, the people of Aathenaar waved mirthfully at the Freedamptonites, and several of the children used their candles to illuminate the carefully crafted message.
After a brief moment of silence, during which Freedampton processed the multiple layers of the prank that had been perpetuated upon them, its people began to laugh. First titters, then giggles, and finally the cathartic guffaws of those who realize that they have been bested.
The people of Freedampton climbed the hill and embraced the people of Aathenaar as brothers and sisters, and swore a new bond of friendship between the two towns. And that is why, to this day, the people of Aathenaar are respected by the people of Freedampton above all others.
Just outside of Aathenaar is the mighty Naliar Hill, whose peak stabs the sky with foreboding. This foreboding is both figurative, owing to the hill’s dimensions, and literal, because the caves that look out over its highest cliffs have at various points housed a variety of evil and powerful monsters to threaten the town. Most recently, of course, is the dragon who lived there, but from whom (due no doubt to the heroic actions of our Baron) nothing has been heard for several weeks.
But some one hundred and thirty-two years ago, a very different menace made its home in the hills. A fearsome giant named Og made her lair in those caves. From there she would conduct raids on Aathenaar, stealing food or other goods or smashing and killing for mere sport. It is lucky that Og was lazy and her raids infrequent, or there would almost undoubtedly be no Aathenaar today. As it was, the town spent most of a decade casting a wary eye at the hill, from whence Og’s angry wails could be heard nightly.
Baroness Ballentine naturally called for the most steadfast warriors of the town to mount an expedition to dislodge Og. Several times did one or several of the town’s finest set out; not once did they return.
As the town drowned in malaise, an unlikely figure appeared. He was a dwarf named Dorgly. Dwarves worked the mines southwest of the town, but rarely if ever visited. Despite their isolation, however, rumor had reached them in the way that only rumor can of an imminent and deadly threat, and Dorgly had been dispatched to investigate.
Upon learning the situation, the clever dwarf immediately began working to address the situation. In three days, he constructed, using techniques which the dwarves hold secret, a catapult powerful enough to shoot a projectile to the top of Naliar Hill.
Dorgly’s plan was to hurl boulders at Og, and hopefully destroy her in that way. Unfortunately, though the rocks within Aathenaar were plentiful, they were also small, and none would even be noticed by the giant. There were, of course, boulders near the hill, but retrieving them would be deadly: Og was more than capable of throwing her own boulders down from her lair at anyone foolish enough to come near.
Dorgly’s solution was an accident. One of Aathenaar’s horses happened to wander into the basket as the dwarf was testing it, and the poor beast went flying up and into Og’s cave. Dorgly was furiously attempting to solve his predicament and had no time to mourn the poor animal, but he realized that Og’s wails were different that night. Instead of angry, they were annoyed, and even pained.
Dorgly suspected that he was onto something. So he gathered up all of the horses within the town and sent them, one by one, to their aerial fate.
By the time he’d finished, there was no more sound from the top of Naliar Hill.
Ballentine assembled 30 of the best warriors from the town guard and sent them, led by Dorgly, to investigate. What they found, once they picked through the carcasses of dozens of fine horses, was Og in great distress. She was covered in rashes, and having a difficult time breathing, clearly suffering the effects of allergies to the horses.
In this state, it was a trivial matter for thirty warriors to plunge their swords into her flesh.
Being a dwarf, Dorgly had no desire to stay in Aathenaar longer than necessary. But he was recognized with riches as befitted a hero of his stature and a baroness of Ballentine’s generosity. The loss of the town’s horses (which condition persists today) was a small price to pay for security.
Aathenaar’s Modern Era began nearly seventeen years ago. On a windy, cold early spring day, a horrified cry arose from within the domicile of Baron Bindek. Bindek’s servants, showing loyalty if not good sense, rushed to their master’s side to discover a horrifying sight.
Bindek was dead, and gushing with blood. At least, most of him was; his head was roughly separated from the torso and sat across the room, glaring at that one uneven brick in the hearth that had caused him so much consternation for so many years. That brick was the least of his problems, though, as a bloody axe head had managed to lodge itself in some of the hearth’s ancient mortar, and that was clearly causing structural as well as cosmetic damage.
Bindek’s body was not alone. The servants arrived to discover Brange, his younger and kinder brother, covered in blood.
“Woe betide Aathenaar on this day of great tragedy!” wailed Brange, overcome by grief at the loss of his beloved sibling. “I was just arriving for a lovely visit with my elder brother when I discovered him in this terrible state. Naturally, I went to embrace him, in hopes of somehow preventing his life force from escaping forever, but alas! I was too late!”
Out of respect for his late brother, Brange waited a full two hours before ascending to the position of Baron of Aathenaar. And what a wondrous ceremony it was! Townspeople marched through the town, shouting slogans of love and pride for their village. Many carried signs as well, although many who did lacked the ability to write and so the slogans those signs bore cannot be considered representative of the humor of the people. The towns bakers produced mountains of pastries and breads as if they had been preparing for weeks. Even a double rainbow could be seen in the air above Brange’s head as he swore the Oath of Baronship. (For this reason, the baron’s first official speech in his office was: “Oh wow, aaaaahhhh! Double rainbow all across the sky! Oh my Harvey it’s so bright and vivid!”)
And so did Aathenaar continue and thrive. From ashes always come new growth, and from the ashes of the tragedy of Baron Bindek grew an era of prosperity and development such as Aathenaar has never seen before.
Early in Baron Brange Aathenaar’s reign, he made one of those decisions that can truly define greatness.
He knew that it was impossible for a community to develop and grow while in a state of constant fear. But Aathenaar was, at the time of his ascension, dangerously close to that situation. The cause of this fear, however, was not an external threat, as the Bard’s Guild was then, as it is now, fulfilling its duty of spreading peace admirably.
No, the threat to the people of Aathenaar came from within: Crime. These heinous acts of brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor, we are forced to admit, existed at that time.
Brange witnessed this sad state of affairs, but he also recognized that, as baron, it was his duty to fight crime with every fiber of his being. So he directed his men to discretely discover the names of some of the most heartless criminals in town in preparation for a memorable event.
That event happened on a flawless summer day. The baron’s men utilized the intelligence they had been gathering to make raids and capture all thirteen of those identified as the worst of the bunch. That they did so in the course of a single morning without alerting any criminal who might have used such alert as a cue to flee is testament to their skill and the baron’s training schemes.
The baron’s men paraded these shameful criminals through the streets of Aathenaar, which naturally drew the attention of the townspeople, and soon the entire town was following this parade, wondering where it might lead.
They did not have to wait long to satisfy their curiosity. The parade terminated in Aathenaar’s main square, where a guillotine had been erected.
One by one, each of the criminals were strapped into the guillotine. Baron Brange personally read their crimes to the assembled crowd. On the roll were murderers, and thieves, and adulterers, and debtors. But worst of all were the agitators: Those who produced the leaflets, placards, broadsheets and banners whose sole purpose was to diminish the spirit of the people of Aathenaar by portraying its baron as a tyrant, or suggesting that he might have had a role in Bindek’s death, or showing him squatting over a chamber pot, and missing.
After announcing the offense committed by each criminal, the Baron gave a signal to the executioner, who pulled the lever that would release the blade and end his pathetic life, much to the delight of the masses who had gathered and who celebrated their impending freedom from fear.
As a result of this show of justice, the existence of crime in Aathenaar ceased overnight. This naturally led to great joy among Aathenaar’s residents. It was, in fact, so effective in boosting the people’s spirits that productivity soared, and Brange was able to reduce the annual ration of flour and meal distributed to each resident by a full five percent.
To further enhance the lives of the people of Aathenaar, the Baron soon instituted a new policy of beautification. He started by sending an expedition of his wisest and most trusted advisors to each of the city-states to acquire sapling specimens from every region of Coventra.
This was not a simple undertaking. There is, naturally enough, the trial associated with a journey of any length, particularly when large amounts of cargo have to be transported. The expedition comprised experienced and wise travelers, however, and so it was made with minimal loss of time and only a moderate casualty rate due to accident, exhaustion, defection, and cannibalism. This must be considered a singularly triumphant achievement.
The second cause of difficulty was the representatives of the other regions with whom our noble emissaries met. Their reaction, upon hearing the Baron’s plan, was generally one of mirth. “Nothing will grow in Aathenaar!” exclaimed Feldspar, the lead arborist of Anaraia, the southwestern jungle territory. “The climate is inhospitable, the soils are riddled with poisonous salts, and the very sunlight is accursed!”
Brange’s representatives refused to accept this argument. “Our Baron is wise and determined,” they declared. “He can cause these trees to flourish by sheer force of will.”
“I should like to see that,” declared Feldspar, clearly convinced by the expedition’s fortitude and sound argument. And she agreed to gift several trees with which Brange could begin his planting scheme.
Similar outcomes occurred everywhere the expedition visited, and just under a year after setting out, it returned to Aathenaar hauling dozens of fine trees. The Baron was delighted by this, and he immediately set to meticulously planning where each tree should be placed, both on the grounds of his manor and throughout the village.
Over the next years, Brange attended to the health of these trees personally, trusting no one else to carry out a plan so close to his heart. He ensured that each individual received appropriate care—the proper amount of water, and offerings of nourishing meats, and the well-balanced ratio of praise and chastisement necessary to the proper growth of all things.
Under the Baron’s care, every single tree did flourish. It was commonly said that if one could brave the sharp protective needles and climb to the top of one of the Baron’s prized olaks, that person would be rewarded with a view of the great western ocean—a statement this bard would never dispute!
Of course, no act, no matter how grand, can achieve unanimous approval, and this famously successful beautification plan was no different. A small group of peasants, led by one Jik, began to publicly suggest that the trees could be harvested and farmed for industrial purposes.
This was, of course, absurd, as the Baron explained to these insurgents. The muds of Aathenaar were the finest industrial material in existence, and they would never run out. “No,” the Baron said, “We shall let beauty be these trees’ contribution to our lives.”
Sadly, the people of Aathenaar were not so magnanimous. They grew enraged at the suggestion of cutting down the beloved trees, and despite all efforts on Brange’s behalf to control the mob, charged Jik and the rest of the peasants. The violence that ensued was truly unfortunate and deeply bloody, resulting in an average of five appendages being torn from the body of each of Jik’s band.
Happily, the remaining townspeople agreed on the wisdom of letting the trees grow undisturbed from then on.
While the day-to-day life of Aathenaar consists of much hard work, as all building of the future does, even this industrious town can take time for the occasional entertainment. Just such an entertainment occurred scarcely a score of years ago.
It began in mundane enough a manner. A small band of travelers, looking something like a caravan of traveling merchants, stopped in the town seeking rooms to let, or failing that, a barn in which they might spend the evening in relative safety and comfort. But this was a bit of clever subterfuge, for once the town went to sleep, they went to work.
In the morning, the town of Aathenaar awoke to the sound of a mirthful fife to discover itself bedecked in colorful silks. The carnival had come to town!
Baron Brange, recognizing the value of recreational activity, immediately declared a town-wide holiday so that everyone could attend the carnival. And he provided an example for his people to follow, winning a colorful seashell at one of the game booths by using a live mouse to knock a ridiculous-looking oversized hat from the head of a very fat woman. In such a jubilant mood was he that when she persisted in declaring that she was not part of the game booth he simply laughed, rather than have her executed.
There were, in any event, several other executions that provided much entertainment to the town. (The carnival, perhaps knowing the law-abiding nature of Aathenaar, brought its own condemned prisoners for the event.) There was also, of course, a feast of roasted meats and freshly-prepared sweets such as few could remember, as well as performers of feats of acrobatic skill and raw strength, and a delightful bonfire in the evening where the town gathered to talk and sing and generally bask in the glory of springtime.
But as wondrous as all of these attractions were, the most popular one must have been a surprise to the travelers who brought the carnival to town. In the afternoon, a cry could be heard from the outskirts of the carnival, drawing a crowd to a latrine and refuse pile where no one would normally gather. The cause of this cry was something that could be seen in the pile of garbage: A newborn baby.
“Who would do this to a child?” someone asked.
“Certainly not I!” declared the fat carnival worker immediately, who had now tied her absurd hat around her waist, making her look a bit like an archery range. Many others agreed that it was terrible that someone would abandon a baby like this.
But then, someone made a very different sound: the cooing of one witnessing something adorable.
A large rat had approached the baby, interested in the parsnip peel upon which the infant was resting. But as the rodent approached, the child—whether by intention, or instinct, or mere spasm—kicked his leg, and the rat went flying.
The crowd rewarded the lad with its loudest cheers yet.
Baron Brange pushed himself to the front of the refuse pile and signaled to his men to retrieve the child. “My heart has been touched by this brave baby boy,” he declared. “I shall take him in, that he never need fear abandonment again.”
It was in extraordinarily high spirits that the town of Aathenaar made its way to bed that night. So great was the euphoria that certain material goods became misplaced, and in fact never found again. But the gains in spirit more than made up for whatever grains or tools or buildings may have been lost.
The village of Aathenaar is well-known for how it faces the harsh conditions of nature with grace and fortitude. But as with all things natural, such conditions ebb and flow in much the same way as the dancing rotabird’s mating cries can get louder and more desperate for up to three hours and fourteen minutes until they suddenly drop off.
One of the harshest periods in memory came a dozen years ago, as a drought settled across the land.
It started innocently enough. The town truly basked in the series of fair days that marked the springtime that year. They were a boon both to the farmers, who found their soil relatively easy to work and finished their planting in record time, and the merchants, whose efforts were aided by the dirt roads that remained firm and easily passable throughout the season.
How pleasant and carefree those days must have been! But all things pleasant and carefree must end, and for Aathenaar it occurred one day shortly after midsummer.
“‘Tis a lovely day,” suggested a peasant named Yog as he entered the Red Dragon Tavern after his day’s exertions—less, it must be said, because he desired the ale that he ordered than because he yearned to see the smile and exchange a few pleasantries with the pretty barmaid, whose name was Hox.
“‘Tis always lovely when you visit,” Hox said, with the clear conviction that only comes from uttering the same words at least a thousand different times to a hundred different people.
“Lurghmah nnch,” Yog replied.
Hox smiled and poured the besmitten peasant a drink. “Of course,” she added idly, “it has been quite a while since the weather has offered anything about which to complain.”
“Yaaah,” Yog said breathlessly. “My crops haven’t even sprouted yet.”
Hox became serious at hearing this. “That’s not good, is it, Yak?”
“Not precisely,” Yog acknowledged, though he was still a bit more delighted that Hox knew so many of the letters in his name than he was worried about the observation.
Of course, the rest of the village was not so lovestruck by Hox, at least not at that precise moment, and her observation spread almost instantaneously through the town on invisible roadways as if it were rumor.
Within a few minutes, people began showing up at the Red Dragon Tavern, and in an hour, every seat and every bit of standing room was occupied, with the most-destitute and worst-smelling at the door straining to hear.
“We must do something!” they cried as one.
“There is a pond near the peak of Naliar Hill. Perhaps we might dig channels in the ground, or create them out of stone, and thus deliver the water to our town where we might use it to sustain our livelihoods,” came one suggestion. Unfortunately, it was made by an ogre-faced young man dressed only in a sack who was standing outside the doors, and therefore it was not heard by the crowd in the main room.
Two loud knocks rang throughout the tavern, and crowded as it was, the assembled humanity split into to. The knocks were made by Baron Brange, and so esteemed was he that all gathered knew the importance of giving him a path to the front.
Brange not only reached the front, he climbed atop the bar and turned to address his subjects. So tall was he that when he stood erect his head produced a hole in the thatched roof, but the tavern owner knew that his words would be of vital importance and did not mind.
“My people,” Brange said. “I know of your concern for the lack of rainfall that Aathenaar has faced of late. I have also taken steps to counter it. I have just finished communing with both Letitia and Harvey, they whose spirits imbue the Four Corners of the Earth. I have informed them of our needs, and they have assured me that they will turn their attention to our village as soon as possible.”
The tavern erupted in cheers, and the good Baron was delivered out of the tavern and back to his home on the shoulders of those assembled. And the Baron’s words proved truthful, for the rains arrived a scant two months later, when all who still lived gathered to dance in the moisture and praise the Baron’s name.
One day a most unwelcome visitor came to Aathenaar.
There can be no doubt that she came—invaded, even—from one of Coventra’s distant city-states; perhaps the central Vakid desert, where the antisocial thrive, or the highlands of Crandide, where one is free to pursue knowledge of the heinous and unnatural without the restraints of decency.
She rode into town on the back of a terrible black goat, who belched flames from its nostrils at regular intervals, much as the noxious gases of the Paquerine Swamp bubble to the surface every six minutes.
“I am Wajida!” she cackled, punctuating this seemingly simple declaration with a terrifying display of pyrotechnics from the tip of her hell-spawned wand.
“I yearn for ale!” she demanded to a lad of no more than six or seven. This poor boy, scared witless at the sudden intrusion into his secure world, nevertheless sketched a bow and promised to procure some, though he had no money of his own and would have to beg it at the Red Dragon Tavern.
This was hardly enough for the wicked witch. “Faster!” she insisted, but it was clear that she had no concern for patience; the boy had barely raced across the street when she brandished her wand and incanted a set of foul words that have not come down to us and that we would not repeat if they had. The effect of these words has come down to us, however: A beam of shot forth from the wand and struck the running boy in his back, and then he disappeared, and on his spot was a rather shocked-looking ferret.
The people of Aathenaar, wisely, gathered those dear to them and retreated to what security their homes could offer. (Even the boy-turned-ferret’s distraught mother, who managed to lure her rodent-son to the family home with a piece of moldy cheese.)
There was only one who dared brave the witch’s incursion into the peaceful town of Aathenaar. That man, naturally, was Baron Brange. Upon learning of the witch’s presence, he marched into town to address her.
Baron Brange found Wajida examining a flowerbox with much the same demeanor as a queen might inspect her new manor’s crown moulding. Baron Brange approached her silently, and he was at her shoulder while she was still unaware of his presence. He announced himself by bending down to the goat’s ear and commanding quite forcefully: “Bad goat!”
The goat, who was just rearing up for another expulsion of fire, reconsidered this course of action.
Wajida was unamused. “I am Wajida, and this is now my town,” she declared.
“I am Baron Brange, and I think not,” Brange retorted.
Wajida attempted her infernal magicks at the good Baron. Whether it was the same spell or one entirely different we cannot say, for the Baron was careful and wise, and understood that danger could approach at any time. He therefore wore at all times a rare and clever charm that protected him against witchcraft, and Wajida’s spell bounced off his person.
Brange laughed at this—a human, decent laugh, as distinguished from Wajida’s cackle, but deep and booming and resonant with power. When he finished, he intoned: “Your time here is done, witch. Begone, and return not!”
Even the ballistae of hell could not withstand such a show of force and fortitude from Baron Brange. Wajida bowed her head and directed her steed to carry her out of the village at its maximum speed, an order that the beast seemed only too happy to comply with.
Witchcraft has never again reared its head within the boundaries of Aathenaar, but the good Baron remains vigilant and will take whatever action proves necessary to protect the fair village.
But while the Baron’s efforts removed the wicked witch Wajida’s presence from Aathenaar, nothing could remove Aathenaar’s presence from Wajida’s mind. It is a believed fact that she obsessed over this fair village, yearning constantly to conquer but being forced, by the Baron’s efforts, to chew instead on the gristle of failed attempts and hate.
There was the time a cloud of locusts settled in the town’s fields, no doubt a conjuration of the witch’s, if not pets that she decided to sacrifice in her lust for power. The locusts proved to be trivial in the face of Aathenaar’s resourcefulness. On, perhaps, a dare, a peasant one day bit into one of these insects—and declared it delicious. The news of this discovery spread among the people of Aathenaar, and before long dozens of clever and tasty recipes had been developed.
Upon seeing how popular the locusts were as food, Baron Brange immediately decreed that the townspeople could keep every one they caught for themselves, instead of submitting a portion as tax to the Baron for the services he rendered. (In exchange for this arrangement, the Baron agreed to accept a larger share of the perfectly nourishing but significantly more mundane grains and meats that the town produced.)
But Wajida is single-minded in her wickedness, and she refused to take the clear message that setbacks such as this offered her. And so, when the peak of Naliar Hill rumbled with rage, there was little doubt what had caused it: Wajida had summoned a dragon to threaten the town.
It confirmed its scaly green existence a few days later, swooping into town and devouring three of the Baron’s cows that were grazing in the field of a peasant who cared for them as companions. With a roar of flame that severely handicapped two professional young ladies by singeing their enormous golden bouffants, it took flight, returning only to grab a pair of lads playing round-o-fours by a large rock for dessert before retiring to its lair to sleep and digest.
The Baron knew that this must not be allowed to pass unanswered. He strode to the top of Naliar Hill confidently, for the Baron had always had a certain rapport with snakes of all kinds. “Dragon,” he declared. “You are not welcome here. Leave at once.”
The dragon, by the Baron’s report, opened one of its eyes and squinted it in a manner that failed to show the proper deference to the Baron’s station. The Baron, however, felt full confidence in his position, and so he did something that would be foolish for anyone without such confidence: He slapped the dragon across the nose.
The beast was shocked, as are all seemingly terrifying individuals when they are stood up to. Now having its full attention, the Baron repeated his order: “Dragon, you are not welcome here. Leave at once.”
The dragon considered, if whatever its reptilian brain did might be called that. But before long, it decided that the Baron clearly had the wherewithal to carry out his implied threat. The dragon meekly lumbered out of the cave and took to the sky, never to be heard from again.
It is commonly claimed that the unicorn—that finest, most perfectly noble of all beasts, whose spirit did imbue Alatia to enable her to give birth to the first of the race of man—will only approach the most virtuous of maidens.
While we must acknowledge the comfort that this legend can provide the listener (for in a world where cruelty does exist and often goes unpunished, we ought to celebrate those situations in which virtue is rewarded), we must also insist that it is not strictly true.
Like most legends, however, this one is based in truth. Unicorns are not, in fact, particularly concerned for the sexual proclivities of those they honor with their presence, and while their contact with people is limited overall, that contact is not strictly limited to those of the female gender.
No, the unicorn’s sole concern is purity of heart. And that fact ought to convince you of the veracity of this seemingly shocking tale:
Baron Brange was taking a constitutional through the Jungles of Anaria, when suddenly he noticed a beautiful, gentle glow through the overgrowth. Drawn to it he was, and he approached it with due caution, but also an overwhelming sense of security.
In a small clearing, he discovered the source of the glow: It was a unicorn, and one that was every bit as glorious as the poems might suggest.
It noticed the good Baron and gazed upon him. What the unicorn might have been doing—whether examining the Baron’s manner, or his physiognomy, or perhaps performing its own magical arts to determine the Baron’s character—the Baron can tell us nothing, for he stood transfixed, simply cherishing this most rare of opportunities.
Knowing the purity of heart that the good Baron possesses, it is hardly surprising that the unicorn eventually approached the Baron (who would like it to be known that he has had a number of romantic partners that demonstrates his virility, tenderness, and mastery of technique).
And it approached him so enthusiastically that he needed not give the order for his party to deploy the ropes, nets, and sleeping drugs they had brought solely for defense against the aggressive owlbears known to stalk the area.
The unicorn nuzzled the good Baron with its horn, filling him with a sense of supreme well-being and joy. “I salute you, noble Unicorn,” the Baron declared, “and I thank you for allowing me to grace you with my presence.”
So moved was the unicorn by this speech that when the Baron gave his party the direction to turn for home, he found that the group’s number had increased by one: The unicorn was following him.
Having already demonstrated the generosity of his spirit, it is hardly surprising that the Baron’s response to this was to heartily inform the unicorn that “Of course my household has room for you!” But even the Baron could not overlook the differences in species that might make his manor house ill-suited for a unicorn’s domicile.
His response to this was to order the construction of a stable: A stable of such grandeur and luxury that this unicorn would never want for anything but could instead live a fulfilling life of ease and abundance.
The Baron caused to be raised the most magnificent of edifices to house the unicorn. It was a round building measuring 40 cubits across and fully 140 cubits in circumference. It featured twelve stately turrets on the roof, spread as close to equally around the edge as could be arranged, and outer walls made of stone reinforced with gleaming bronze. The interior was decorated tastefully in the style of the Marwani school, with its brightly colored overstuffed pillows and ceilings of silvered glass.
The unicorn ate from feeding bins lined with real bone accents. (The bone came from one of the builders who was tragically killed during the construction period. We must insist that the death was not related to any of the three major collapses that befell the building, for the Baron personally ensured the safety of the work site. Instead, the man was killed by his wife in a purely domestic squabble, and his remains were utilized in this way to honor his memory. When it was discovered that his bones were not quite enough to complete the bins, his wife was brought to justice and her bones added to the supply.)
The stable opened into a delightful field with plenty of room for frolic and gambol, as well as a collection of cuttings from the Baron’s trees where the unicorn could achieve a measure of solitude.
To those wags who suggest that it might be unseemly to provide so much to creatures simply for their beauty when simply surviving in the area was so challenging for so many, it must be made clear that the value that this unicorn provided the village of Aathenaar more than justified it. We dare not justify this attitude with further comment.
The unicorn was very clearly satisfied with its new home, as it ate contentedly and rested with a sense of utter peace. It felt not even loneliness for others of its kind, for soon others began showing up, completely on their own volition, looking wistfully at the luxury offered within the fences of the stable. The Baron ordered that all such unicorns should be welcomed into the stable and cared for as his own flesh and blood, and in this way did their number reach eight or twelve.
To this day does their noble spirit imbue the town of Aathenaar, brightening its spirits as the blinking of the Western Leafstar brightens the night sky.
And so, as this history approaches the standings of the current day, I humbly submit it to the good Baron Brange. In hope that he may find it informative and delightful, and that others might as well, and that the Baron remain in fine health and spirit with nothing untoward befalling him, I remain:
Repatia of Rookwood Falls
[her signature and seal]