The Tyranny of Dragons: Dawn of Heroes
Ah Elturgard! If any place in the world exemplifies humanity’s potential for greatness, it is this nascent nation. Who could forget the shining sight of a host of its Companions, paladins all, riding out on the field, banners taught and snapping, breastplates and shields agleam with the symbol of Elturgard, and each bearing a holy symbol of his or her god— armor for the soul. We have no shortage of the good and the just among my people, but the sheer zeal and genuine bravado the Companions have in pursuit of righteousness seems to me something uniquely human. And it's not just those few touched by the gods who seek these high ideals; Elturgard’s armed forces swell with men and women who aspire to join the Companions. They are the Hellriders, so named because long ago warriors of Elturel literally rode through a gate into the Nine Hells to pursue and destroy devils that had been plaguing their people. With these bright examples to look up to, is it any wonder that the common people of Elturgard also tend to be devout in their pursuit of justice and worship of the gods?
Oh how bright Elturgard’s light burns! If only it could last. Humans are, after all, short-lived creatures, and fickle in their faith and attentions. Elturgard is the product of just a generation or two of humans, and it seems implausible that it will last many more. Sadly, I think I shall witness Elturgard diminish. But it was a miracle that brought about the nation of Elturgard, and perhaps
that divine provenance will preserve it.
It began, as all the great stories do, in darkness. Half a century ago, the city of Elturel was a petty power. It had claimed its neighbors’ territory under various excuses, putting them under “Elturel’s Guard.” Then, the city’s leader, its High Rider, was revealed to be a vampire. The extent of the vampire’s network of charmed servants, undead allies, and willing sycophants took the Hellriders by surprise. An undead plague swamped Elturel, and although its Hellriders made some gains by day, in darkness the vampire and its minions inflicted cruel losses. Each night the good people of Elturel prayed to the gods that dawn might come more swiftly.
Then, on a particularly disastrous night when all seemed lost, dawn did come. A warm golden light suffused the city and surrounding lands, cast down from a golden orb that hung unwavering in the sky, so bright that it seemed a new day had dawned. Caught outside when this miracle appeared, the High Rider and his vampire spawn burned away to dust, and the other undead quailed in its illumination. In short order, Elturel was free.
When the true dawn came, the new sun remained. And it stayed in the sky through the next night, and the night after, and each night from then until now. While some called it Amaunator’s Gift, none could say what god granted them this boon. Most saw it as a companion to the sun and to themselves, and so it is known as the Companion. This holy wonder brought pilgrims of all kinds to Elturel. The devout, the curious, the afflicted- all came to bathe in its warmth and see its blessed light by night. Paladins had always been small in number among the Hellriders, but the Companion drew many to Elturgard, and the best among them was named High Observer to rule in the High Rider’s place.
To maintain order among the many faiths of the paladins, a special knighthood was created, named after the Companion sun. These paladins swore to uphold the Creed Resolute, an oath of service to Elturgard and all good people. And thus Elturgard now has both the Companions and the Hellriders.
The post of High Observer is no longer occupied by a paladin, but by a priest of Torm named Thavus Kreeg, and this to me seems fitting. Paladins should be out in the world, using their divine gifts for the good of all, not signing documents behind some desk or dithering with dignitaries. High Observer Kreeg has ruled wisely and well these past forty years or so, but as a short-lived human, he is nearing the end of his years. When he passes or can no longer cope with the demands of his office, I hope that Elturgard can make a smooth transition to equally strong leadership. It is during such change and the struggles for power that result that
humans often stray from the righteous path. Perhaps the light of the Companion will show them the way.
Sometimes called the Kingdom of Two Suns, Elturgard encompasses Elturel, Triel, Scornubel, Soubar, and Berdusk. It also claims and protects many small villages and farms strung along the roads and rivers in the Western Heartlands.
The heraldry of Elturgard— the sun and a smaller companion sun surrounded in a blaze— is familiar to many of us along the roads that lead to and through Elturgard, for it also blazons the armor and flags of its two groups of guardians, the Hellriders and the Companions.
It might be fairly said that the only reason Elturgard can exist as a nation is because of these knights, for it faces threats from all around. The wilderness to the south is home to ravenous monsters, and the serpent kingdom of Najara to the north routinely sends agents— both raiders and spies— to test the strength of Elturgard. The knights can’t afford to be anything but vigilant, and fortunately for the folk of Elturgard, they are just that.
I regard crossing the border into Elturgard as a relief, for it usually means the beginning of a safe haven, with a need to set fewer guards at night. Many adventurers find good cause to visit Elturgard, whether pursuing personal goals or seeking sanctuary from the dangers
that surround the small nation. Additionally, the High Observer is known to employ groups of adventurers in matters of importance to the nation. Though it has many paladins and clerics in its ranks, outside assistance is essential to the continued defense of the realm.
Several years ago, the entire complement of paladins at Fort Morninglord simply disappeared. The High Observer at the time ordered the fort, a day's ride west of Elturel, to be bricked up, and the curious forbidden entrance, for fear of what evil they might release into the world. The fort remains sealed today, and guards occupy a fortified encampment nearby. The camp serves as a base from which the paladins of Elturgard can patrol this area of the nation, and also as a deterrent to adventurers and other ne’er-do-wells who might otherwise try to find whatever is trapped in the fort’s depths.
The second sun that sits directly above Elturel burns night and day. This orb is commonly called the Companion, but some ascribe it to one deity or another. Where the natural sun journeys across the sky and disappears at night, the Companion is steady and loyal, ever preventing creatures of darkness from assaulting the city.
This second sun provides daytime illumination to the people of Elturel at all hours, and its illumination is as harmful to creatures vulnerable to sunlight as the sun is. This constant daylight lessens the farther one travels from Elturel, casting a sort of wan dawn light for fifty or so miles around the city. Beyond that, the orb is visible as a bright beacon in the sky. It can be seen clearly at night from as far away as Boareskyr Bridge and Ber- dusk, looking like an unmoving star low on the horizon. It might be fairly said that every land touched by its light is now under “Elturel’s Shield,” but such claims raise hackles among Elturgard’s neighbors.
The Creed Resolute
With no clear sign of the source of the Companion and so many faithful arriving in Elturgard each day, the first High Observer brought together a cadre of paladins and devised the Creed Resolute. This series of oaths and maxims outlines, among other things, that those who swear by it will not ascribe the Companion to any one god, nor allow religious differences to come between themselves and others. Those who swear the Creed Resolute also promise to serve the High Observer and uphold the laws of Elturgard, and always be in service to the greater good. While originally the Creed Resolute was intended to forge the fractious paladins of Elturgard into the Companions, the oath has since been taken by all among the Hellriders as well. If a Hellrider or Companion oversteps the bounds of the law or good conduct, often a fellow will say “recall the Creed,” and soon things are set right.
Though some of the Creeds agents seem unnecessarily stern, the people of Elturgard hold the Hellriders and Companions in the highest esteem. The Companions are without a doubt the champions of the people first and foremost, and the folk of Elturgard love them for it. Though it might be hard to get the Companions to crack a smile, IVe found even the lowliest of the guards here willing, without a second thought, to lay down their lives in defense of their people, and the folk of Elturgard know it. Disrespect the Creed, and it isn’t the Creed’s wrath you face, but that of the local citizenry.
Elturel is a city on a hill. It stands overlooking the River Chionthar, constantly illuminated by the Companion. A major location along the trade route through the Western Heartlands, Elturel and its environs for many miles around are a safe haven for visitors and citizens alike. Much of this safety comes from the efforts of the Hellriders, whose cavalry patrol the roads that lead into Elturgard, as well as the paths along the river.
In the city’s center, directly beneath the Companion, is a cliff-sided tor that holds aloft the High Hall. This castle, whose walls surround the summit of the mount, is home to the High Observer, and to a great deal of the bureaucracy of Elturgard. A stream runs out of the center of the castle, spawned by the powerful springs in its cellars. It flows north across the tor’s top and then down one of its cliffs in a series of waterfalls called the Maidens’ Leap.
By canal it forms a moat for the eastern Dock District, before it joins the Chionthar. Along the stream across the tor lies the long, narrow garden, an open place of flowers, wooded paths, and arched bridges. The garden is a favorite meeting place for citizens of Elturel and retains a wild
beauty in winter. The rich folk of the city dwell nearest the garden atop the tor, while folk in the town below live mostly in tall, narrow homes that are rich in balconies and windows.
Its benefits notwithstanding, the constant illumination that bathes Elturel can be difficult for newcomers to adjust to. Inns and boarding halls usually swathe the windows of their guest rooms in thick cloth to block out the light so that visitors can get some sleep. Without
the onset of dawn or dusk to frame the day’s labors, cit- izens rely on the tolling of the bells from the High Hall to denote the start and end of the workday. The lack of natural darkness means the city sees less of the sorts of activities that city folk in other places often undertake at night. Elturel has a low incidence of brawling and ambushes in the alleys around its inns and taverns, and those who would engage in thievery must be especially careful and shrewd to succeed.
A few other major settlements of note are located within the borders of Elturgard. I describe three of them briefly here.
Berdusk. A large population of artisans drives the activity in the city of Berdusk. Its native nobility, the so-called “First Folk of Berdusk.” have made a great show of their piety since the founding of Elturgard, and a great many of the high-ranking priests hail from their families. Over the years a few bad apples in their midst have given Berduskans a reputation for the sin of “false piety”— pretending to a stronger faith than one actually possesses. Though this attitude is disapproved of by the Creed, it has given rise in other parts of Elturgard to the expression “as holy as a Berduskan priest”— which is to say, not very.
Scornubel. Known far and wide as the City of Caravans, Scornubel is the great trading nexus of the Kingdom of Two Suns, and the Elturgard city I am most familiar with. Though responsible for a great deal of the nation’s prosperity, it is also the source of plenty of its trouble; Scornubel is a haven for outlanders, many of whom are either troublemakers or folk whom trouble is pursuing. Add to this the machinations of Scornubel’s native merchant-princes and the rumors of a thieves’ guild somewhere in its walls, and it can be understood why the saying “The High Observer’s headache is named Scornubel” has some merit.
Soubar. Soubar is a small walled town with supporting farmsteads strung along the road to the north and south. It is a waypoint settlement much like any other except for the existence of the Black Abbey. This dark stone structure once served as a monastery to Bane and lay in ruins for many years. Now priests of Bane have begun rebuilding it, bringing an influx of wealth and trade, along with the many skilled masons and laborers necessary for such a project. Some people question the desirability of a temple to Bane in Elturgard, but those who do are encouraged to recall the Creed. For their part, the priests of Bane have pledged to aid in Soubar’s defense against raiding goblinoids and other threats, a promise that gives some solace to the suspicious.