Sunward, Tartarians, and The Legacy of Kings
A story weaving an ancient enemy, unlikely allies, and legends come to life together into a tale of blood, justice, revenge, and kingdoms.
Incense permeated the air inside the sanctum, delicate wisps of smoke drifted from braziers that glowed with the faint orange light of smoldering coals that smelled of sage. The morning daylight spilled through opened, glassless windows as did the gentle sea breeze that carried the sound of waves that crashed against the cliffs below. Those waves were also what filled the air with the taste of salt and were the source of the low vibration that always rang through the cliffs of Antigall like distant thunder. All the people of the coastal village called Antigall were packed into the temple’s sanctum by morning, on that fateful day of the Gods. In Antigall the only stone buildings were the Gods Temple and the Lords Watchtower, the later scarcely used. The Gods Temple was a thick walled building with heavy blocks of granite, soapstone, and sandstone stacked and interlocked together. The temple’s walls were four feet thick at the base and narrowed to half that as they rose higher than all but the Lords Tower. Each joint in the wall was sealed with a bone white mortar made of gravel and chalk that had held since the village elder’s grandfather’s grandfather had built the Temple. The ten foot high walls held a timber roof that was thatched with dense peat and heavy furs, the beams that held the thatching were said to be the remnants of the ships the ancient men used to cross the Leviathan Sea, and were older than any man still living in Antigall.
Inside the temple a simple round entry greeted worshipers; a spirit fire, to which penitents could come and sacrifice that which made them sinful, danced in a simple hearth on the left wall. Opposing the spirit fire were deep alcoves each with a life size ivory statute of one of the five Gods of the Stars standing watchful over the worshipers as they entered. Past the entry and within the sanctum the rough hewn stone pews were full, each woman and child of the village seated and each man and boy standing with their families in solemn expectation. Before the worshipers on the stone pews was a great alter shaped from the bones of a Leviathan taken from the sea by Dallox Farseer, a great hunter, seaman, and leader from generations past. The tremendous ribs were lashed together with strips of sealskin leather and formed an alcove behind a dais built from the creature’s polished skull and supported by its immense vertebra. Candles of every color covered the bone alter and its surrounding stone tables, streams of wax ran and formed intricate patterns before falling to the floor in great pools. In some places the pools of wax had piled so high and the leavings of the candle stretched so far that they resembled the stone stalagmites and stalactites that grew within the cliff side caves near Antigall.
Before long the heavy wooden doors to the temple entry were closed by a young acolyte, hooded and robed in deep purple cloth sashed with a cloth of black and devoid of any ornamentation. After sealing the doors the acolyte passed the alcoves of the five Gods making the sign of each at his passing and continued down the center aisle between the pews, quietly speaking prayers in the Gods tongue as he past the pews to take his place to the left of the alter. Two players, one with a giant drum made from the bones and stomach of a whale and the other with a horn made of that same whale’s rib began to fill the sanctum with music, slow and ominous like the coming of a storm. From a spartan room secreted behind the bone alter the village priest shuffled forward. The old man leaned heavily on a cane of gnarled driftwood as he walked and was dressed much like the acolyte, in supple purple robes sashed in black that seemed to engulf a frail, withered body beneath. The old priest had only one trapping setting him apart from the acolyte, a heavy chord of braided greenish metal, deep water steel, around his neck with five disks hanging from it, each marked for one of the Star Gods. The twisted cane he carried struck the floor in time with the shaking bass of the large drum as he approached the pulpit and even the sound of the waves, barely distinguishable over the drum and horn, seemed to crash ashore in time with the rapping of the priest’s cane. As he settled behind the pulpit the priest lifted his arms and the people of Antigall began the ceremony that took place on this day, the first day of summer, every year, and the day of the Gods began.
Summer seas carried the four ships that comprised Skalian Iornhand’s fleet down the craggy north coast, just out of sight of land. Each ship was of the same make, Tartarian galleys. The galleys bows were sharp as knife points, curving upward at the stern, and wide amidships, each with two decks of oars, a single central mast with a square sail, and a deep hold. All the hulls had been coated in pitch and tar before they left the islands of Dugar three weeks ago, each ship black as night with little ornamentation. Aboard each forty-foot long ship were sixty men each one a rower, sailor, killer, and raider… quintessential Tartarians. The Tartarian people were known for little more than being superb killers and arch-traitors, bastard folk, stripped of all claims and titles, considered outside the grace of Gods, Lords, and men alike. The Tartarian’s were exiled and confined long ago to the miserable Dugar islands for their ancestors crimes. They were a people thought to be long isolated from the common lands, most if not all claimed by the fearsome storms or the deadly beasts that plagued the Dugar islands.
Ten generations ago the great King, Leon the Just, campaigned in the Ash Wastes far to the south of his Kingdom, the Sunward Lands, for gold and glory against the savage Dune Tribes that slaughtered traders, innocents, and warriors alike. During the campaign one of King Leon’s trusted Lord’s and brothers in knighthood, Lord Tartarian betrayed him, wounding the King on the field of battle and decimating his armies after falling in league with the Dune Tribes. Lord Tartarian returned to the Sunward Lands, the seat of King Leon’s Kingdom, murdered the King’s heirs and claimed the Throne. The details of the story are lost to time but it is known that King Leon survived his wounds in the Ash Wastes and returned to the Sunward Lands to slay the treacherous Lord Tartarian in single combat within the throne room of the Solius Castle in the Solar City. Wounded but triumphant and with the treacherous Lord Tartarian slowly dying at his feet King Leon called his court to assemble and brought every member of Tartarian blood before their dying scion. It was in this manner, before the entire royal court the King Leon pronounced his judgment upon not just Lord Tartarian but the entire Tartarian bloodline. A clean death for those that wished to atone for their households crimes honorably and exile to the Dugar islands for those that wished to live in shame. Nearly every Tartarian, once known as a most honorable house, submitted to the Kings justice for their Household Lords crime. A small number of those Tartarians that had been most closely related to Lord Tartarian refused the honorable death and fled to the Dugar islands in shame, hounded, harassed, and attacked by all those whom they had wronged. Those that chose death, more than two hundred, were executed with a sword to the back of the neck upon the battlements of Solius Castle’s east wall. Their blood ran down the towering stone walls and to this day the wall remains stained with Tartarian blood.
It was a story told all over the Kingdom, in villages like Antigall, to frighten children and as a lesson of prudence and loyalty. It was told to Skalian Iornhand as he grew up on the Dugar Islands to remind him of the brutality of the mainland Lords, of the hate they bore those of Tartarian blood, of the heavy handed punishments that Kings called justice. For twenty-five years he had survived on Dugar’s main island unlike so many of his family. Storms filled his every day, torrential rain, lightening that scorched the ground, and waves that flooded the inlets and shores and destroyed anything the men of Tartarian blood tried to create. For twenty-five years he and what little family he had, all Tartarians, fought the creatures that lived on the islands. Twisted beasts comprised of tentacle and tooth that rose from the flood waters and consumed men and women whole, abominations of wing and claw that screeched down from mountain side nests and snatched up sons and daughters with talons as long as a man’s forearm, and monstrosities that prowled the rocks and woods, stalking Tartarian prey, eviscerating anyone they caught in the blink of an eye. It was no secret amongst those that lived on Dugar, the Tartarians were dying off.
So Skalian had set off into the storms, the last hope of the Tartarians to be free of Dugar. He had sailed off with three score more ships, every vessel the Tartarians could manage to build before the storms or beasts destroyed them. Within the first week the fleet had lost six ships to the savage storms that wracked the seas around Dugar. Krakens had attacked their fleet nearly every day and consumed four more ships and two had gone missing in the black stormy nights, lost and off course, consumed by leviathans, or capsizing due to storms. Four had made it though; four Tartarian ships had made it past the Sea of Storms around the Dugar Island, to where no Tartarian had been in generations, Kingdom waters. As night was settling Skalian was on the forecastle of his ship “Lords Wrath” and could see the lights of bonfires and hearth fires off towards the shore. Shrouded in a boat cloak made from the mane of a manitcore Skalian took a moment of time and enjoyed a world free from the torrential rain that he had endured his whole life. For once in his life the boiled leather armor that covered his scarred body was dry and the thick mantle of onyx hair on his head grew wild in every direction unburdened by soaking rain. As his thoughts returned to the present his body shook with anticipation and barely contained rage upon having sighted the fires far ashore. A handful of miles were all that separated him from the descendants of those Lords and Ladies that exiled his family to an existence of dreary death and brutality. A sadistic smile twisted Skalian’s lips and dried as they were by the sea, they cracked bleeding instantly and he relished the taste of blood as he turned to the lower decks and his oar master.
The oar master for “Lords Wrath” was a twisted thing, born of too many generations of isolated Tartarian blood. Twisted of spine the oar master was still a head taller and five stone heavier than Skalian, all the weight being heavy slabs of misplaced muscle. How this relation to Skalian had lived and was not sacrificed to Kyakos or Ayreon at birth was a mystery to Skalian but his rough grayish flesh, pocked and scarred all over, spoke of the struggle every Tartarian endured. The same breeding that had granted the oar master prodigious strength and size had also made him a simpleton, fiercely loyal and easily manipulated by the right person. Skalian moved across the deck toward the oar master and placed a heavy mailed fist on the twisted oar masters shoulder when he spoke. The mail was an heirloom, rusted by the rains but meaningful to the owner “Make them row hard oar master and do it now…” his voice guttural and low from where a rock raven had once nearly torn his throat out on Dugar. “…if I am not bathing in Kings men blood by two hours passing then I’ll feed you to the Krakens, a piece at a time.”