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Shadows of a Dream: A History of the Sidar

Discussion in 'Civ4 - Stories & Tales' started by lumpthing, Dec 23, 2009.

  1. lumpthing

    lumpthing generic lump

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    Using Fall from Heaven mod with Wild Mana modmod along with a few tweaks of my own (no barbarian cities + settlers require a few early technologies).

    Spoiler :
     
  2. lumpthing

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    The Sidar were not always immortal. They began as another band of hardy men and women with the fortitude and ingenuity to survive both the ice and the beasts which its melting unleashed. As with all such groups their origins are submerged in the bardic legends that substitute for history in an era alienated from the written word. All we know for sure is that they found a way to survive in a land by a frozen sea surrounded by endless snow-laden woods.



    These prehistoric Sidar moved from place to place, coaxing from the thawing earth where they could, and slaying beasts where they could not. The beginnings of the Rebirth did not so much ease their lives as gradually lessen its crushing burden. Their world was one of unyielding frozen soils, an endless wilderness of towering snow-laden pines, eternally frozen in the Age of Ice, slowly rekindling in the brief summers of the early Rebirth.

    Their future capital, Celo, was originally a sacred burial space for the Age of Ice nomads of the region. The sea, then an endless desert of ice, was believed to be the dwelling place of Arawn, god of death. They would carry their dead as far as they dared through the ice and then leave them there to dwell with Arawn. Great stones which straddled the coast seemed to the Sidar to be gateways to the land of death. In the corrupted Patrian of the ancient Sidar, 'Celo' meant something like "gateway to death". Here many nomad groups of the region would gather to pass through the gates and deliver their dead to Arawn. It was this practice which differentiated the nomads from other wanderers of the region. The Sidar were simply the nomads who visited these gates of death and shared in the rituals, remembrances and rites which surrounded it.

    When Erebus finally experienced its first faint summer after Mulcarn's destruction, the Sidar considered the waters which melted into Celo as holy and were inspired to develop a preceding stage to the long journey into Arawn's land. The seasonal melting of the sea spoke to them of the connection between the world of the dead and the world of the living. They dug out hollows in the earth around Celo and channels leading to the hollows. The dead were placed in the hollows and, when it melted, the sea flowed down the channels to wash over the waiting corpses, cleansing them in preparation for their journey to the afterlife. This journey now had to wait until the deepest Winter, when ice covered the sea once more.

    This mean that the funeral of an ancient Sidar who died in late Summer would not be completed for nearly two years. First, they would be preserved in ice until next year's Summer when they could receive the necessary bathing in the melted seawater. Then they would be stored in ice again until deepest winter when they could be carried into the frozen ocean.

    This caused Celo to become a place which could not simply be abandoned. The dead stored there needed to be guarded from marauding beasts. The sacred hollows and channels needed to be guarded from desecration by non-Sidar. The nomadic Sidar tribes began to co-operate to ensure the protection of the site and share the burden of maintaining its permanent settlement of priests and guards. This was the foundation of Celo-as-a-city, a tiny enclave of funerary-priests of Arawn and their devoted guards.

    These priests were so tightly bound by ritual that they had no need of a formal hierarchy of leadership. They would do the duties of the funerary rites and preside over the annual remaking of the hollows and channels, the preservation of corpses and digging of the pit in the ocean. Collective decisions were made by the gatherings of tribal chiefs, as they decided how best to preserve Celo.

    - A History of Erebus, Morrogoth the Amber
     
  3. lumpthing

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    Eventually the Rebirth reached a point where the sea around Celo ceased to freeze even in Winter. From then on the Sidar dead were stored in the still-permanent ice amidst the mountains near Celo. There the dead could await the time when the sea would freeze over again and the domain of Arawn could once more be reached.

    By this time the Sidar tribes' whole lives revolved around the preservation of Celo. Erebus' warming had given greater resources for the Sidar to protect Celo but had also bred sterner dangers to its holy integrity. Beasts hungry for the corpses of the Sidar became more numerous, the eyes of tribes greedy for destruction and blasphemy more frequent to fall on Celo's sanctified coast and, most dreadful of all, the corpses of other lands and other times began to rise, animated with a demonic intent to bid the living join them in their unnatural half-death.

    The tribes assigned more and more kinsfolk to guard the site and the activities involved in sustaining it became more complex. On occasion, non-Sidar peoples would arrive at Celo's gates begging protection from the ravages of marauding beastmen and orcs. The priests accepted them as, they said, Arawn welcomed all to the land of death, taking the opportunity to enfold them within Celo's funeral-economy.

    - A History of Erebus, Morrogoth the Amber
     
  4. lumpthing

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    Outside Celo, the still mostly-nomadic Sidar had become highly skilled in arts of hunting and herding. Their huge flocks of bison and sheep, teeming through the forests, supplied all the Sidar with food, clothing and, for the nomads, homes.

    Sandalphon was born into one of these hunter-herder tribes, the distant cousin of a tribal chief. He was a gifted hunter but his wanderings in this purpose bred in him a craving for more than hunting – discovery. Sometimes, bands of hunters would break away from the main group for months, even years, at at a time to drive deep into the forest in search of suitably challenging kills to honour Arawn. As they roved the wilderness, the hunters discovered more than trees, animals and other peoples. More and more the thawing ice revealed fragments of the world that preceded it.

    The forest was a dangerous place and few dared go too far south, where the increasing heat bred terrifying giant spider and where an innumerable goblins thirsted for human blood. Moreover there was no need to further when the opportunities for a worthy kill were so plentiful in more familiar territory. But Sandalphon was motivated by more than hunting.

    When Sandalphon had not yet reached his second decade, his hunting band wandered far, far to the south and were camped out on a crest overlooking a great valley, where the trees were cut through by a vast streaming. The expedition had proved their worth and they carried the carcasses of many beasts to prove it. The band were eager to pay home and receive honour in Celo and to return to the security of the main tribe and its herds.

    But Sandalphon's heart burned with a desire for more than hunting and repute: discovery. Here at the very edge of the Sidar world, he decided to go further, to seek what it was that the melting Erebus wanted to reveal, that spoke of a world that was more than just ice and hunting and a holy city of funerals.

    - A History of Erebus, Morrogoth the Amber
     
  5. lumpthing

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    Sandalphon's eyes burned with a passion that, perceived in the fog and the cold of Sidar territory, spoke of the alienness of the lands he had visited. The clan leaders looked on him gravely as he spoke of what he had seen – a vast, crumbling ruin of a metropolis buried amidst streams and vines, an abomination of a temple where the goblins made human sacrifices whose corpses would rise to the command of unseen fiends, of an unfathomably immense wall of mountains ending the forest and protecting from its evils a high, sun-blazed kingdom of rocky plateaus and overflowing terrace-fields upon which were nourished a squat, bearded race who loved deep, deep tunnels and worshipped the great goddess who dwelt below, and of rumours of still-vaster lands beyond.

    "Mothers and Father of my clan, everything the bards sing of is true. There was a world before the ice, filled with wonders and might that makes our arts look like the play of children. I have heard of much more than I have seen: great walkways in the sky, trees that glimmer in blue and red and sing songs that imbibe the listener with life itself, ever-Summered lands where men revere castles of the walking dead. I have heard tell of ageless elves who say there were there when Winter fell: saw him slain by a mere mortal."

    The elders feared his words without knowing why. They ignored his pleas to call a council of the clans at Celo and dismissed him as a foolhardy youth. Later, Sandalphon would share more of his thoughts in private:

    "Father there is still more than what I told the elders. I have heard of something called 'magic', the thing that the peoples of old used to make their world. Father, I would know this power myself, so that we might make of the Sidar the glory that Erebus has known in ages past. Even if the elders won't hear anything of the hitherto unknown I would know it. We must know it or it will know us, and master us. And more than that I would know what the real secrets of the past are. Why did the old land fail? Why did the ice melt and Arawn withdraw his land from ours? What have the gods destined for us? What might we mortals truly achieve if only we had time to study all this? I have seen other peoples like ours and I know that we are like fish who spend their whole life in a pond and have no concept of the ocean. I will not be such a fish."

    Sandalphon's father averted his gaze from Sandalphon, youngest of his many sons, his unexpected gift of life where he expected only the barrenness of the grey march to death. Above grey eyes his ancient brows formed deep furrows. "I shall never see you again" he said.
     
  6. lumpthing

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    Erebus is the forest, the land of the living.

    Celo is the gateway to the ocean, the land of the dead.

    The Pristin Pass is the gateway to Hell, where all things are warped in agony and destruction and where life and death are sucked into an unbending chaos. This is the land to which Sandalphon passed.

    - The Book of Arawn
     
  7. lumpthing

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    In less than a year Sandalphon embarked on his second journey, accompanied by a handful of close friends. Sandalphon was a great hunter, so his passing was well-noticed. He would not return for sixty-five. When he did, barely anyone was still alive to recognize him. Those who did noted that although he had aged, he had not done so nearly so much as he should have done, and that he was much changed, in ways that were different to those caused by the passing of time, from the youth that had fled so long ago. His old fire had been replaced by cold, insurmountable purpose, his burning eyes had given way to dark hollows that were both penetrating and unfathomably distant. He did not stay for long. He said he wanted to speak with all those who yearned for knowledge, and who despised the tyranny of the mortal coil. Most feared him and dared not even be seen by him. The priests were frozen by him, finding themselves unwilling to speak of his words or acknowledge the unsettling strangeness of his presence. They awaited his departure and happily forgot him. Others approached him and of those, some were turned away and the rest departed with Sandalphon on a black-sailed vessel.

    Twenty-five years later Sandalphon returned, again on a black-sailed ship. The visit was much the same as before except that this time, a small pilgrimage took place across the land amongst those who knew of the legend of Sandalphon. Of the pilgrims, some were welcomed by Sandalphon and left silently with him a year later, never to be seen again, at least not by those Sidar then alive.

    To the ancient Sidar the sea was the meeting point of Erebus and the Afterworld. They caught no fish and built no boats. Because Sandalphon arrived and departed by the sea, it became supposed that he had visited the land of Arawn and that he was now returning there with those who would not suffer the trials of souls in their normal journey to death, and would not sleep in the frozen tombs hidden amongst the Celo mountains. The memory of Sandalphon quickly became a legend.

    On the third visit, Sandalphon never left his ship. Indeed it is not known whether he was even aboard. The Sidar understood the visit and the cryptic invitation did not need to be repeated. The vessel departed with its cargo of those few mortals whose yearning for something greater compelled them to abandon everything and step into the utter unknown, and who met Sandalphon's mysterious criteria.

    This was repeated three more times, at intermittent intervals spanning many generations. Nobody knew exactly when Sandalphon would return but every Sidar knew that if they reached adulthood, they would have at least one chance to part with him. The priests remained fearful and strangely silenced by these visits, they experienced the presence of Sandalphon's ship in the harbour as a disturbing force which eclipsed the ancient rites and drew all the Sidars' thoughts to Sandalphon's passive but all-powerful presence. The rites continued in the years of the visits, but they seemed to lose their power to define the Sidar reality. Whenever Sandalphon left, it was if the priests, and the life they presided over, could breath again. No priest ever left with the black sails.
     
  8. lumpthing

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    Sandalphon's seventh visit to Celo was not like the rest. The black sails were torn and the vessel battered. Moreover it was accompanied by four more ships, all in poor states of repair. Instead of remaining within, Sandalphon immediately departed and made for the palace of the High Priest of Arawn. After a long private meeting between the Priest and Sandalphon, the former ordered many supplies be brought to the five ships and the next day, ordered stone and lumber for the construction of a great extension to Celo. Overseen by Sandalphon and his companions who occasionally emerged from the ships, the Sidar built an annex which, though rushed and limited by the thin resources of the Sidar land, struck the citizens of Sidar with a certain lithe impressiveness: its attempts at articulating a grandeur and elegance which they never before seen. It was the first of the many building projects Sandalphon would initiate before he was satisfied with his new home.

    Here, Sandalphon and his companions, who the people of Celo called the 'shades', set about building a city within a city, keeping themselves to themselves. As soon they could, they set about repaying their debt to the priesthood. Though they wanted nothing to do with the rest of Celo, they were careful to pay appropriate tributes to the priests, beyond what was owed by their debt, and to appear to lead simple lives with no showing of the wealth. The citizens grew used to the presence of the shades, enfolding their strangeness into the ritual-written landscape of their society.

    Occasionally the shades journeyed out of Celo in ones or twos, to trade their goods with the tribes and perform other, unknown missions. A few spent time living amongst the tribes, often acting as advisors to the chiefs, before returning to the shades' compound in Celo. The shades were known to be learned, possessing secret books and the power of runes. Their counsel became highly sort after by the chiefs.

    When a clanfather visited Celo after a long absence and saw the shades for the first time, the priests told him:

    'Arawn has seen fit to the return those who sailed to him back to the land where they were still living. We have given them shelter and mercy and they have laboured for us and enriched the temple of Arawn. We do not understand them as we do not understand Arawn, and they do not deign to reveal themselves to us as Arawn does not deign to reveal himself to us. But they do right according to the rites of Arawn and they are people of his land, and also people who once belonged to ours, and so we must abide with them.

    It is strange but what was known to be true of Sandalphon is true of all of them: they do not age. They have passed into death and their bodies obey the laws of that worlds, not ours. It is Arawn's strange work and it is our task to accept it. Praise be to the Angel of Death, in whose mind we find our rest.'
     
  9. lumpthing

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    By the time of the shades' settlement the land around Celo had much changed. The trees here had been felled to reveal a muddy land of wild grasses and mist-tipped mounts. The growing prowess of the nomad tribes had made it a region of relative safety, where cottages lay isolated amongst the fogs without fear of goblin raids or the malevolent glares of the undead. The struggle had been shifted to the south, where the forest became progressively more dangerous and where the Sidar tribes who dwelt there survived by fleeing from the great beasts and the goblin hordes. Here the Sidar were as much hunted as hunters. Often they would find themselves in the great valley of ruins which Sandalphon had visited, before catching sight of some new forest horror and moving on into the safety of woodland shadows.

    The one sign of the combing change in the balance of power in the woods was the additions the Sidar made to their mobile menagerie of tamed beasts. One by one, the Sidar herds of bison, horse and sheep were joined by feirce stags, rumbling bears and, strangest of all, giant poisonous spiders which allowed themselves to be ridden and mastered by the most skilled of the Sidar hunters. With the aid of these tamed monsters, the Sidar presence in the depths of the forest became more fixed, less given to fleeing and dodging. Temporary camps became more permanent, the chiefs' ambitions started to swell.

    For these deep-dwelling tribes, repute amongst the Council of Chiefs grew to be determined by how many goblins had been slain, how many hidden places uncovered, how unyielding the tribe had grown in the face of the forces arrayed against them. In these contest-struggles, Mirrough, the new chief of Clan Myrtyr – the tribe who most frequently ranged into the fabled ruins at the heart of the forest – was particularly successful. His name became feared amongst the goblin and the other clan chiefs heard with an admiration which smothered their jealousy of his many amazing deeds. He took permanent hold of what remained of a steeple in the ruins and, decorating its walls with goblin bones and guts, declared his tribe the scourge of all goblins. Riding at the head of a terrifying column of spider-riders, reclaiming ever-greating spans of the ruins, he led his tribe in unprecedent boldness for many, many years. Too many years. And the other chiefs could not help but notice.

    Mirrough lived too long. His face was too unmarked. Without making it known, without telling anyone, he had become like the shades of Celo: become one of them. The Priesthood of Arawn ruled that a shade could not be a ruler of the Sidar people: the chiefs were subject to death, which was mediated by the priests. The shades were outside that system, they could exist alongside it but they could not rule it. Acquiescing to their faith, the Council of Chiefs voted to expel Mirrough. He was banished to live amongst the shades, and a new chief was appointed amongst his relatives.

    But his successors could not match his prowess. Indeed, a succession of them were quickly killed in battle by vengefully resurgent goblins. Within a handful of chiefs all the gains of Clan Myterr had been lost and all the tribes felt the renewed blow of the goblins as they streamed across the whole length of the Valley of Ruins and forced the Sidar back to the north, crowding them against wild spiders and tree-demons.

    In desperation, the Council of Chiefs called for Mirrough's return. Choosing to reinterpret the priesthood's renewed dogma of disapproval, the chiefs appointed him Warlord of the Sidar, and all the tribes of the South offered him the services of their tribes. Mirrough's leadership fell like a blazing sword across the land. In his first campaign, he recaptured the heart of the ruins and established a permanent camp to guard it. Next, he turned to the East and amongst the steep, craggy valleys where the great river neared its sources he ordered the building of a massive tower. To build it, trees were felled for miles around and the earth was pitted with quarries and mines. The tower reached heavenward as high as a mountain. It would be the sign of a turning point in Sidar history. They were no longer hunters amongst hunters: living, fleeing and fearing. The tower was like a blaze of glory amongst the shadowed greens, shouting and screaming to the goblins that it would never be subdued, that the war had turned, that the forest-world had been transcended.

    It was noted that the greatest of Mirrough's warriors only fell in battle. They never fell to age. Both glory and shade were spreading through the Sidar land.
     
  10. lumpthing

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    Mirrough kept to the south, he knew he was unwelcome to the priests of Celo. Their attitude to him was however ambivalent. His gradual progression against the goblins yielded too many benefits for them to be too vitriolic in their condemnations. The victorious tribes bore greater tributes back to Celo to lay at the feet of Arawn's altar.

    Between the two powerholds established by Mirrough, 'the Ruines' and 'the Tower', a new Sidar land was gradually carved out. A steady trickle of migrants arrived from the north, taking leave of the ritual-worn society of Celo for the promise

    The steep hilly walls of the valleys were mined for rock and metal, while the valley floors were farmed. Around the Ruins, Sidar took up residence in old forts and towns of the ancient, and a trade was established with the newly-contacted dwarves of of the southern mountains. From them the Sidar learnt the art of wine cultivation and also the faith of Kilmorph, goddess of the mountains' riches and the fertile earth. Amongst the southern Sidar, the worship of Kilmorph spread until it supassed, certainly in vibrancy and heartfelt feeling if not in ritual status or numbers, the worship of Arawn. Kilmorph was the mother of life and bounty, it was in her soil that the trees and crops which fed all other life grew. It was in her depth that copper and silver revealed themselves. Kilmorph was the goddess of the living – let the dead worship the god of the dead.

    In time, a temple of Kilmorph was even established in Celo, on the far side of the city, away from the sea, as if the citizens were embarassed to put her shrine too close to his domain.

    Of course the dead still mattered very much to the Sidar, and their remains would be taken faithfully northwards. It was on this role that the shades formed a new and special place in the Sidar economy. In the north the dead could easily be preserved in the cold. In the warm south of the forest, the dead rapidly decayed. Their half-rotted remains were dismaying sight in the holy waters of Arawn. The shades saved this shame of the south through knowledge of their art of embalment. For a price, the shades would preserve Sidar remains so they could be carried in due respect to the holy rituals of Celo.

    The whole process of transporting the bodies along the long, dangerous paths from the South to Celo became a shade trade. To the mortal Sidar this seem natural enough, since the shades were known to be of Arawn's land.
     

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