Friday, 11 April 2014

Guest Blog! Stephen Deas - The History of the Taiytakei

To mark the publication of Stephen Deas' 'Dragon Queen' in paperback (it has been on the shelves only a few hours less than this post has been up, or something like that) I'm lucky enough to be hosting a guest blog on the history of the Taiytakei, the dominant culture in the series. This is a very long blog post and the reason that I'm posting it so close to lunchtime is that I reckon it will be the ideal accompaniment to your sandwiches and crisps (or whatever you're having in fact). Go on, have a read...

Gazetteer of the Taiytakei Realm

It was long a desire of mine to study the mysterious Taiytakei traders when I was a senior alchemist within the Palace of Alchemy. Their one great hunger was well known to us and made us, in a way, their enemy, for we could not allow any dragon to fall into their hands. I did not understand this in  my early years as an alchemist's apprentice. Later, as greater mysteries and secrets were revealed to me, I knew we could not permit any dragon to be raised where there were no alchemists to dull the growth of its mental capacity, the resurgence of lifetime after lifetime of memory. By then, however, it was too late. I had acquired my fascination. The ways of the Taiytakei seemed strange and mysterious, their abilities remarkable and magical, and although they shared a secret now and then, it was clear to any who cared to look that they knew the order of the world far better and more thoroughly than they would care to admit. We formed a club (not of my own making) of those alchemists most curious to know more. We compiled papers, recording what little we were able to establish of where they came from and what their world was like.

We knew so very little.

Now I am their slave, taken in the last gasp of Speaker Hyram's reign. An alchemist's duty is to serve those who claim mastery of dragons, whoever they are, to keep the world safe from their awakened fury. I left many alchemists behind me, perfectly capable of fulfilling that duty in the world where I was born. Among the Taiytakei I am alone. They say they will take eggs from the King of the Crags and the Prince of Furymouth, although they do not say how. They ask me to build and prepare an eyrie, and have found the most wondrous home for such a thing. Whether they will fulfil their desire and bring dragons to fill this home I am creating, I cannot say. While I wait, I study them, as once so longed to do. Perhaps one day, these documents will find a way back to the land of my birth, and to the alchemists who were once so curious. I have written them in part from what I have seen with my own eyes (such places as Khalishtor, of course, but also the Crown of the Sea Lords and the Palace of Leaves, and I have watched the Konsidar and the Lair of Samim drift far beneath my feet as I float on Taiytakei Glasships). Other places I have described from what those around me say is true. I cannot be sure that what they believe is indeed always the truth, but I do not think any have sought to deceive me, and in matters of simple history and geography, in the simple descriptions of places and palaces, there is no reason why eyes would lie. Other records I have taken from the Taiytakei books, which I devour with unseemly greed. The simple facts of what is where and how they appear are largely beyond dispute. Others remain as impenetrable to me as they have been to the Taiytakei themselves for a thousand years. Beneath the surface, there is much that even the Taiytakei do not understand. In truth, they are perhaps even less masters of their own destinies that we are of ours. I have done my best be truthful. I have sought both myth and reality, and have endeavoured to distinguish them. Inevitably, at times, I will have failed.

I hope the Taiytakei will fail in their hunger for dragons and leave me to my studies, but I fear they will not, and my fear is not for me, but for them. For I am but one alchemist, and they cannot make another, whatever secrets I tell them, and when I am gone, they will face their dragons alone.


Grand Master Alchemist to Speaker Hyram of the Nine Realms, Protector of the Order of the Scales.

A Simple history of the Taiytakei

No records remain of the earliest histories of Takei’Tarr, and one is forced to root around myths and legends that have passed into folklore, looking for what threads may appear, and also among the stories of the other folk, those who are not a part of the culture of the Sea-Lords. The Elemental Men, it seems, have gone to extraordinary lengths to supress any memories and traditions of that time; but still, while it is a death-sentence to even set eyes upon the Rava, which may contain the only true history of those days, certain stories are too widely spread to supress. Such stories speak of a time when the world was one place and there was no storm-dark, although many Taiytakei scoff at the notion and argue that the world has always been the way it is. However, it is a thing of great interest to me that those few myths and legends that do speak of times before the great cataclysm also speak of god-like men of superlative power who dressed in liquid silver, a clear analogue of our own Silver Kings. In the case of the desert peoples, for instance, their earliest histories speak of their tribes having lived “in heaven among the gods,” and the very few descriptions or pictures of this “heaven” refer to the gods as “men of silver”. There are hints and traces of this too in more urban Taiytakei culture, although it is to be found in stories that have since lost their meaning and in old songs and rhymes. It is frustrating not to have more to work with – the desert tribes also consider the Elemental Men to be some semi-divine intermediaries of their gods while the mythical Righteous Ones of the Konsidar are vile demons. Also lacking in is any notion at all of any true gods, even though many of the tribes from which the Taiytakei grew still have their rituals and stories. This is perhaps not so significant to one such as myself, hailing from a land where the Great Flame has faded from grace and most people make offerings to shrines of their ancestors; nevertheless, for the Taiytakei to have no sense of the world's creation nor its creators, no sense of afterlife or of what happens beyond death, and to have reached this view despite their own stories (and the powerful and significant and all-pervasive religions they have encountered in other realms) seems strange. Nevertheless, some taboos exist that are familiar (not burying the dead under the earth, for example – the Taiytakei bury them at sea for the most part) and may have their roots in these long-forgotten traditions.

It is accepted, however, by most Taiytakei that some cataclysm once overtook their land. There are many different notions of what this “Splintering” truly was, from being the event that destroyed large portions of the world, wiped the Silver Kings away and gave rise to the storm-dark to explanations far more mundane – those who espouse the latter will argue that the earth-shattering events recorded in the histories of many of the different cultures the Taiytakei have since encountered were unconnected in both cause and time. However, it is clear that some sort of great event once shook Takei’Tarr, and it is my own opinion that the story is sufficiently widespread in disparate origins to suggest a single common event.

Early History – the Elemental Men
The most fertile and prosperous region of Takei’Tarr is and always has been the western coast, and this is where the first kingdoms arose. These early stories of the centuries after the Splintering speak of towns and cities that were built among the remains of something other, presumably the remnants of whatever culture existed previously and has now been lost. These early stories remain, however, fractured and scant. It is only with the coming of the Elemental Men that Taiytakei history truly beings.

Disputes between towns and cities and even kingdoms were settled almost entirely through murder and assassination rather than open warfare. The appearance of the Elemental Men – sorcerous assassins against whom there appeared to be no defence – appears to have thrown these early city states into utter disarray quickly followed by subservience as the Elemental Men styled themselves as the new arbiters of these disputes. From all accounts, their interference in day to day Taiytakei society was extensive but subtle. The establishment of very strict rules for the resolution of disputes, and the existence of an effective and terrifying method of enforcement, cascaded down throughout the society. Taiytakei laws remain strict, rigid, simple, ruthlessly enforced and almost uniformly adhered to. It is hard to assess the influence of the early Elemental Men beyond the system of law that has grown around the Taiytakei, but even the Taiytakei themselves will agree that their rigid laws influenced the growth of their highly bureaucratic means of self-administration, and the threat of the Elemental Men and the severity of all punishments even for lesser crimes has resulted in a system of governance that is very inward looking and prone to analyse its own decisions and actions for possible mistakes. This tends to make the Taiytakei slow to react, but when they do, it is with comprehensive and thoroughly researched actions. The Taiytakei consider that the lack of conflict following the appearance of the Elemental men has allowed them to spend more of their efforts and energies on more creative pursuits and hence their superiority to the cultures of the other realms they have visited; this is called into question, however, when one observes that their treatment of other realms is largely one of exploitation and of systematic efforts to undermine the development of other realms – up to and including fomenting wars on the scale of the War of Thorns on at least two occasions. As the Elemental do not interfere in this, it appears that their doctrine of peaceful resolution of conflict through an unanswerable threat of assassination is limited to their own culture and domain.

Another early impact of the Elemental Men, well documented by the Taiytakei themselves, was the eradication of all organised religion within their sphere of influence. The early Elemental Men were entirely ruthless about this, quite content to murder anyone who tried to oppose their will. Early Taiytakei society appears to have considered the sun and the sea (interchangeable with the moon) as principle deities, with many also worshipping the “silver angels” who were seen as the messengers of the sea-god but almost certainly hark back to the legends of similar creatures prior to the Splintering. The Elemental Men wiped these practices away with such efficiency that almost no records of them remain, let alone any temples or relics. The practice of worshipping local spirits was more tolerated, although public places of worship were forbidden (the shrine to the Goddess of Fickle Fortune atop the Dul Matha is a notable exception; this likely came about because the shrine exists far away from the early influence of the Elemental men, and was well established before they came into contact with it – by which time, attitudes had changed and a more permissive attitude to the shrines of lesser gods was in force).

Rise of the Enchanters
Most of all, the Elemental Men opposed any practice of sorcery. Any showing a talent for sorcery were either dissuaded by simple means or, if they persisted or could not control their talent, were killed. Several notable sorcerers rose nonetheless, and the stories of Abraxi, Ren Shaha and The Crimson Sunburst are widely known and often repeated, frequently with so much embellishment that the truth is all but lost underneath. Certainly all three caused a great deal of trouble for the Elemental Men. It is said that in dealing with Abraxi and her acolytes, the Elemental Men learned almost all of the tricks and turns they would need in later years for dealing with the sorcerers and priest of the Dominion. [Author's note: It is worthwhile to contemplate how the ferocious aversion of the Elemental Men to both worship of the old gods and to sorcery arose, and how, with those values embraced by the Taiytakei as a whole, how they affected their dealings with the Sun King (considered a manifestation of the old sun god on earth) and the Dominion as a whole (highly religious and devoted to exactly those gods reviled by the Elemental Men, and more recently with Aria, whose most powerful sorcerers apparently put those of the Taiytakei to shame)]. Dealing with sorcerers who practiced their art in the shadows soon became something of which the Elemental Men were extremely capable, but the last of the three great magi caused problems of a different kind, for the Crimson Sunburst was also queen of the might slaver city of Cashax, and practised her sorcery in a manner that was both overt and not obviously sorcery, for most of her magics were presented in the form of enchanted devices. Her story is well known (although a hundred versions exist presenting it in a hundred different colours). The Crimson Sunburst proved to be a formidable sorceress who understood the Elemental Men far better than they cared for – several of were killed in attempts to destroy her, and three were famously captured in prisons of gold – the first recorded use of this metal to contain an Elemental Man. Furthermore, her creations – golems and the like – proved remarkably resilient and although they provided little opposition to the  Elemental Men themselves, many of the lesser shapers who served at that time were killed battling them. After the Crimson Sunburst was defeated, several of her acolytes were spared, on condition that they would share the secrets of the golems and other creations, and would forswear sorcery of any other kind. This they did, and became the first Enchanters (and also the first Navigators). The Elemental Men men would later point out that the Taiytakei had filled the western coast of Takei’Tarr, that twelve of the Fourteen Cities had been built and twelve of what would become the thirteen Sea Lorda sat on their thrones, that two hundred years had passed since Ten Tazei had mapped the northern coast of Takei’Tarr, that the world held no more mysteries and this is why they permitted this turn of events. It is often forgotten, among the miracles of glass and gold that now abound, that these first Enchanters pre-date the first crossing of the storm-dark.

The First Navigator
Among the first of these Enchanters was the man who would become the first of the Navigators, Feyn Charin. Given his association with the Crimson Sunburst, Feyn Charin was already a colourful character, and his story is worthy of some length in its own right. An acolyte – and perhaps more – of the Crimson Sunburst, Charin had been measuring the Godspike (with what instruments is not clear, but the only exact measurements currently recorded for the Godspike are said to be those made by Feyn Charin five hundred years ago). After the Crimson Sunburst’s fall, his researches were allowed to continue. After years of apparently achieving nothing at all, one day he flew up into the storm-dark around the Godspike cloud and vanished; when he came back a few hours later, he left the Godspike with all speed, hired the first ship he could find, and sailed it straight into the storm-dark near Xican. All assumed he was possessed by some madness and that he and his ship, the Maelstrom, would never be seen again, but both appeared again three months later. They landed in Xican filled with stories of a strange land filled with winged fire-breathing monsters but no one believed either Charin or his crew. The Maelstrom travelled across the storm-dark a second time, this time bringing back slaves stolen from the coast. It was the first time any Taiytakei had seen a pale-skinned man, and the new spread like fire in summer. Over the next two years, the Maelstrom crossed the storm-dark six more times, taking princes and several Elemental Men. Three years after the first voyage, the Maelstrom made its first voyage to what Charin referred to as the Northern Realm. Although the Taiytakei did not make contact with the Dominion, the absence of fire-breathing dragons in this second realm made it immediately more appealing. A year later, the Golden Crane led a second expedition and the Taiytakei made their first contact with the Dominion. By then. However, Charin himself had become a virtual recluse within his fortress, the Dralamut. Although in later life he did once return to the Godspike, he would not enter the storm-dark there a second time and no navigator since has done so and returned. He died in madness and alone, raving of silver men, his legacy long since taken by his apprentices for their own ends.

The last two centuries of Taiytakei history have been, to Taiytakei eyes, glorious. In their first encounter with the Dominion, the Taiytakei found themselves faced with a culture that vastly outnumbered them was, much superior in its mastery of arcane arts (although with the very significant exception of the Elemental Men, for whom the Dominion have never had a parallel) and was in many ways technologically more sophisticated. Through assiduous planning, ruthlessly uneven trading agreements and the occasional campaign of assassinations, the Taiytakei have establish themselves as the great power of the sea. Taiytakei navigators opened up what is now Aria to the Dominion and then, a century later, engineered its rebellion and a subsequent bitter war which drove the Dominion into a century-long period of stagnation. The Taiytakei may not have sorcerers and sun-fire hurling priests, but their black powder rockets and the lightning cannon and other weapons now make them masters of every world to which they sail – and that is all of them – save one: they do not yet dare to face the dragon princes of my home.

It is perhaps ironic, given their preoccupation with the Dominion for the last three hundred years, that they now feel most threatened by the colony they once helped found and then used to break the Dominion’s spine. While the eyes of the Taiytakei were elsewhere the empire has taken such great strides forwards in such a short space of time. Aria has had gold, a great deal of gold which the Taiytakei and their Enchanters desire and for which they have steadily paid, and now it is that empire that looks poised to challenge them. It will not last, they say. Not while the Taiytakei are the masters of the storm-dark and with the Elemental Men to protect them.

As for the Elemental Men themselves, it is not clear at all how whether and how much they have guided the Taiytakei in their dealings with other realms. They seem detached and aloof, but I am not so sure. I believe the question is not whether, but how much, and wherever I see, here and there in the histories of other realms and particularly the Dominion, the unexpected yet fortuitous deaths of the mighty and the powerful, I must wonder if I see the glimmer of the Elemental Men.

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