The Benandonner raise the islands
Long ago, the islands of Rhas Cayerne did not exist. This was the distant age before the Dragon-Blooded, when strange monsters dwelt in the world, when the land shook and the sea trembled, where jets of fire rose from the ground and creatures and plants rained from the sky.
Then the First Heroes came, on their ships of iron and gold, sailing out of the east to tame the Wild Waters. They were Exalted, though accounts differ on their nature; the Realm claims they were Dragon-Blooded, the first of their names. Some say they were ancestors of Queen Liloka, or possibly her past lives. Some say they were Exigents of Iron, or Solar Anathema. Whoever they were, the First Heroes sailed against the edges of the world, where chaos reigned, and found the Benandonner sleeping in the cold, dark waters.
The Benandonner were giants, creatures of earth and iron, benevolent things, but chained in the ocean depths, knowing neither the heat of sun nor the fire of the forge nor the pleasant warmth of hot stew in ones’ belly. They were kept in the darkness, believing it was all there was and all there ever would be. But the First Heroes parted the water, and showed the Benandonner the sunlight, and they awoke from their misery and slumber to greet their liberators. And the First Heroes explained that they were on a quest to the edges of the world; but their ships of iron and gold had sailed a long time, and their stores were empty, and they longed for solid ground and green grass.
The giants, thankful to be shown the warm sun, swore the First Oath of Rhas Cayerne then; for the children of the First Heroes, the men and women that walk the earth and sail the sea, they would build a safe haven. In return, the men and women that walk the earth and sail the sea would swear to love and honor the land, to bless it with heat of the heart.
So it was that the Benandonner built the islands of Rhas Cayerne out of the silt of the sea, of the iron of their bones, of the heat of the sun. They hammered and baked the mud into stone, tore mighty mountains from the depths of the sea, threw great boulders to make the smaller islands and scattered pebbles for the birds to roost. Out of their hair, they made the grass and the trees. Out of their crystal dreams came the gems and precious stones that laced the islands and the ore. The First Heroes dwelt there, and built pastures and castles for themselves, and prospered with their families.
The Benandonner sleep
The First Heroes were still bound to their quests. They must often leave the islands of Rhas Cayerne to sail for the unknown West, there to do battle with the Fair Folk and the monsters that dwell beyond the edge of the world. When they were away, the Benandonner made the islands their own, to leisurely lie in the sun, or sport at wrestling or games of stone-throw, and many features still mar the land where their games became too violent. Each time the First Heroes returned from their great journeys, some island had been broken in half, or some mountain toppled. Eventually, they must bid the Benandonner stop, and so was sworn the Second Oath: That the Benandonner would sleep beneath the islands once more, keeping them steady and still. No longer would they bask in the sun, or heat their hearts in battle and sport; instead, they would be comforted by the warmth of men and women above them. Their hearths, and hearts, and bravery and passion, would be enough for the Benandonner to know peace. And so the giants slept beneath the earth, and the world passed into a long age of peace. When the men and women battled righteously, or loved virtuously, and lit good fires in their hearts and hearths, the Benandonner smiled, and dreamed pleasant dreams.
The Children of the Sea and the Two Heroes
Now, in the Western lands now today known as Porphyra and Smaragdi and Kyanos, the First Heroes met the ancestors of the Sendayi, the people of the water. These were very fair. Their hair shimmered like coral and sea-foam, their bodies were slender and supple, their skin was pale as mother-of-pearl and smooth as the finest seashell. The First Heroes were enamored with them. Some of the First Heroes stayed in these lands; others took them as wives and husbands back to Rhas Cayerne. This was the origin of the Sendayi.
Time passed. The First Heroes grew increasingly lazy and cold. Their heroism receded; they were tempted into debauchery. Of this, few stories are told. It is not known what happened to them. Two heroes left their fold; the Sworn Woman and the Craftsman.
The Sworn Woman was a warrior, black-haired and stern-eyed, and she sailed north on her ship of iron and gold, until she came to a village in the distant north, where cold reigned. These people were also of the sea; but they were its enemies, trapped in ice and misery, battling the cold creatures of the water. The Sworn Woman settled there, far from luxury, and raised a family. They were untouched by the cataclysms going on in the world. Her children were the Rhashaan.
Of the Craftsman is told, that he sailed east on his ship of iron and gold, until he came to the Blessed Isle. There, he spoke with the Dragon-Blooded that may or may not have been his kin. They had heard of the debauchery of the First Heroes, and had begun killing many fallen heroes on their own island, rescuing the world from evil. In doing so, they had turned upon those they had sworn as kin and kings, and though their cause was just, they had broken their oaths. Therefore, the world was in great peril. The Craftsman took his family and hid beneath the earth while the world shook. The Fair Folk surged over the world, and a great sickness struck the four corners of Creation. The Dragon-Blooded died; the people of the sea died. It was a cataclysm of unseen proportions. The family of the Craftsman was safe beneath the earth; and the family of the Sworn Woman in the northern ice also.
(Yang’s Footnote: Most of this is likely fictitious. Two Solar Exalted surviving the Usurpation, much less one of them hiding under the Blessed Isle, seems preposterous. It is more likely the Sworn Woman and the Craftsman were invented as culture heroes by the Rhashaan and the Cayerne immigrants, thus legitimizing their rule over Rhas Cayerne.)
The Scarlet Empress
From among the Dragon-Blooded arose the hero who would unite them. The Scarlet Empress led her kin to victory, and the eleven Great Clans of the Dragon-Blooded were united. The world was safe. The Craftsman emerged from his hiding place, but the Sworn Woman was dead. On her deathbed, she told her children to seek out Rhas Cayerne. They buried her with her ship, but sailed south on ships of their own, in search of their mother’s home.
Gone were the great wonders of old. The people on the islands had long forgotten their oaths to the Benandonner, and the giants had stirred in their sleep. Great castles had crumbled into the sea, and farms and pastures had been wracked by storm. Rhas Cayerne had become cold and bitter. But the sons and daughters of the Sworn Woman found that it yet held strong iron and true earth; and they recited the oaths of their mother, and the Benandonner slept peacefully once more. So it was that the Rhashaan, the Sworn People, came to live on Rhas Cayerne.
On the eastern shores, the sons and daughters of the Craftsman emerged from their hiding-place. But the Dragon-Blooded envied and feared one of the First Heroes, and slew the Craftsman to take his creations. His sons and daughters must flee their terrible vengeance, and so they ventured westwards, back to their mythical homeland. Here they arrived not long after the Rhashaan, and recited the oaths of their father, and strengthened the Benandonner. So it was that the Cayerne, the Earth People, came to live on Rhas Cayerne – and it was named the name it bears today, the Sworn Earth.
At first, the Rhashaan and the Cayerne spread peacefully over the island. Soon, however, they had multiplied, and made war on each other. Some of the Sendayi also survived on the island, having hidden in the deepest woods, practicing dark and degenerate magic to survive. Many clans and tribes were formed, and a bitter struggle for supremacy emerged. The Cayerne used their fortifications, their wit, and their wisdom; the Rhashaan their strength of arm and oath. The Sendayi used their dark knowledge of the wilderness and the sea to work vile magic upon their enemies. None could drive the other off the island, and for many years unsteady peace treaties, made for the lifetimes of only so many chieftains, were all that kept the islands together. Once more, the Benandonner grew restless. Once more, the islands were in peril.
Until Queen Liloka.
Nobody knows the origin of the Queen. She traced her lineage neither to Rashaan, Cayerne, or Sendayi. Many said she was a descendant of the First Heroes, or a reincarnation of them; whatever the case, she looked like none of the people of Rhas Cayerne, with her silver-grey hair and midnight-black eyes, her amber-colored skin and her feathered clothes. Upon her brow shone the Queensmark, a glowing circle, symbol of unity and perfection. Her deeds are too countless to be enumerated here. All men and women of Rhas Cayerne know tales of Queen Liloka, of how she wrestled the Rhashaan champion, and pinned him beneath the roots of an oak; how she skipped a stone across the waves to break the mast of a traitor’s ship; of how she outwitted and humiliated the Cayerne chieftain in a game of hnefatafl, on which he bet his iron and his pride. Likewise, the Sendayi speak of her with respect, saying she wrested oaths from the spirits not even they could extract, and made a medicine so great it could save the life of a man whose blood had been turned to salt by the Deep Ones.
The Queen united the three peoples of Rhas Cayerne under one banner. Though each would keep their own ways – the Rhashaan of the highlands, the Cayerne of the lowlands, and the Sendayi as strange and rootless wanderers – there would be peace between them. Oaths, not lineage, would form the basis of the islands’ government, for oaths with the Benandonner had built the islands themselves. Queen Liloka never married, and had no children; instead, those who would be Princes of the Islands would swear oaths to her, taking the Queen as their symbolic mother and ruling in her name. Since all the lairds and thanes were thus sworn brothers and sisters, there would not be war between them.
The reign of Queen Liloka lasted a little over a century. As mysteriously as she had appeared, the blessed Queen disappeared again. Her vanishing coincided mysteriously with the arrival of the Realm on the island. Some say she died on some great venture in the West; others say she left the island to allow peace with the Realm, who would never suffer a queen whose brow glowed with the Queensmark. Whatever the case, there was peace between the Blessed Isle and the people of Rhas Cayerne; the reigning Prince accepted the presence of their Legion, and their missionary-monks, and in return enjoyed luxury and trade. Slowly, the people of Rhas Cayerne became accustomed to peaceful trade, and prosperity grew on the islands. To raid in the west and north, and trade in the east and south, became the new norm. The Immaculate Faith slowly spread across the islands, and the influence of the Realm grew.
The Greatest Generation
Who knows what gives rise to a generation of heroes? Perhaps the turning of the winds, or the ways of the stars. Perhaps the bravery of men ebbs and flows like the water. There had been starvation and failed harvests, and at the same time opportunities for glory in faraway lands. An entire generation went a-viking, seeking their fortunes.
(Yang’s Footnote: Some scholars from Wu-Jian attribute the rise of the Greatest Generation to a simple technological innovation – Karazou Hanseath Arjuna’s instatement of the Cartographer’s Guild, which created an open market for charted routes previously jealously guarded by individual merchants and captains. Certainly, the failed harvests and bad weather provided motivation, but the new maps may have provided much of the opportunity.)
Fortunes shifted with the new opportunities. Families that had long since tilled the land, or relied on periodic raids to nearby islands, suddenly found themselves displaced by upstarts with treasures from Porphyra, Smaragdi, Kyanos and other more faraway locales. Some went a-viking unprepared in foreign lands, and were lost. Still others fell victim to the Deep Ones, as new and uncharted waters meant new and unknown monsters. Entire clans were lost at sea, but some men and women who left home as urchins returned as lairds, with wealth like princes.
Then came the reign of Sovereign Prince Maeraigh, a stately woman of sixty winters. A member of the Greatest Generation herself, she held together the land through the turmoil and the winds of change, and deftly limited the influence of the Realm, who saw much opportunity in allying with successful raiders and traders. Far from their home isle, the Legion had become accustomed to life in Rhas Cayerne, and many of its Dragon-Blooded members played at politics, seeking land and holdings for themselves. The Sovereign put a damper on ambitions of the local clans and the Dynasts alike… until her untimely death.
The Civil War
The Sovereign died nearly a full year ago. She was slain by Boudicca Rhas Cynefin, now styled simply Boudicca Rhas Cayerne, the last member of an ancient clan nearly driven to extinction. Boudicca’s rivals had a friend in Peleps Kalok Raynn, a Dynast who sought some land of his own. A long-standing grudge with Rhas Cynefin provided the opportunity – killing their last living member in a duel would allow the Dynast a legitimate path to claiming her holds. In an unexpected turn of events, Boudicca – an unmarried woman of little renown from a forgotten clan – slew the Dragon-Blooded Dynast who trespassed on her ancestor’s castle.
Killing a Dragon-Blood is the deepest form of heresy the Realm can imagine. Naturally, the Legion demanded her head, on pain of war. The Sovereign saw little choice but to rule in favor of House Peleps and declare Boudicca an outlaw, stripping her of rank and title and handing her ancestral lands over to the Dynasts. In response, Boudicca showed up at the castle with a band of loyal soldiers, demanded the Sovereign pay the Iron Price for her treachery to Rhas Cayerne, and killed her.
Many have now rallied behind Boudicca as the new rightful Sovereign of Rhas Cayerne. However, many members of the Greatest Generation have found friendship with the Legion, and have broken bread with them; this includes the mighty hero Gerald Bearclaw, one of the most reputed heroes in the country, who even the Dragon-Blooded trust as general of their forces despite his Cayerne birth.
By Rhas Cayerne law, Boudicca did no wrong in slaying the Dragon-Blood, but in turning on the Sovereign, she broke her oath of fealty. Her supporters argue Maeraigh broke it first, by bowing to foreign lords and making an outcast of a true and loyal woman of Rhas Cayerne. Those loyal to the Legion claim Maeraigh was simply trying to protect her other subjects from the wrath of the Dragon-Blooded. No obvious answers exist, and the lairds of Rhas Cayerne are rapidly forced to choose sides.
The Benandonner stir once again. Chaos is coming to Rhas Cayerne, and its most ancient enemies once more see their chance to take back what was theirs – the islands that were raised from the bottom of the sea…