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By Benjamin Peltz All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter 1

It was Year One, the year that the Fourth Kingdom was inaugurated. For centuries, the three great cities of Raowenn, Fallinar, and Serpaniss had been warring against one another. In different seasons, one of the cities would rally a great army and conquer the others, demanding tribute and often taking the most competent of the other cities’ citizens to be trained at their schools and indoctrinated into their religion. Over time, discontent would grow and one of the other two would raise up an army of their own, not stopping when their conquerors had been expelled but in turn becoming conquerors.

The cities then were not so different than they are now. Raowenn, the oldest of the three, depended on its religious zealots, who were never fully indoctrinated into the less structured belief systems of Fallinar and Serpaniss. Fallinar was the richest of the three due to its fertile lands and skilled tradesmen. And Serpaniss, originally settled by Raowenn, was curious about magic and led by its sages. These great cities ruled over swaths of land, having tremendous influence over the towns and villages that surrounded them, and have continued to do so to this day. Do not be deceived by these similarities, however, for all three were but shadows of their current selves, because endless war limited their growth and ensured that none but the strongest in a given period was able to truly thrive.

All of this changed when Samion the Wise first discovered the proper routes by which the Great Sea could be navigated. He and his team of explorers set out to test his theories at a time when Serpaniss was the greatest of the kingdoms, casting off from the southern shore and aiming to arrive at the Fallinari town of Port Freedom. The voyage was supposed to take three days. When a full week came to pass without the ship arriving, those waiting on the other side departed under the assumption that Samion’s ship, like those before it, had been lost in one of the sea’s erratic storms. One can imagine the surprise of those who lived in that sleepy village when the masts first appeared on the horizon a full month later. How much greater the surprise when Samion explained to his fellow sages that the reason for his delay was an unanticipated island in the middle of the sea, a barren place covered in mountains and caves full of an unusual metal. This is the island we now know as Renna Hael, and the metal Hael Stones, the stony gems that enable bearers to perform magical feats that would have been unimaginable to Samion and his peers. As the Serpanian sages tested the metal Samion returned with and realized its magical properties, they came to believe that the island was the cause of the Great Sea’s storms, and that it might be possible to alter or at least anticipate them upon the island. They were correct. The Serpanians settled Renna Hael, which allowed them to navigate the Great Sea freely and led to Serpaniss becoming the dominant economic and military force in the region for nearly three centuries. The result was unprecedented peace and prosperity throughout the world, as the other two kingdoms came to accept the superiority of Serpaniss and focused on economic and educational developments rather than overthrowing their conquerors.

Although it was Samion’s arrival on the island that is now viewed as the founding of the Fourth Kingdom, it was not until Raowenn managed to wrest Renna Hael from the Serpanians in 278 After Foundation that the term “Fourth Kingdom” was used. By this time, citizens of the three kingdoms had become so accustomed to peace that there were revolts when the cities attempted to conscript soldiers again. In response, leaders from the three kingdoms met and agreed to establish the Ruling Council. It was agreed that each city would select a single representative to sit on the Council, with a second representative being awarded to the kingdom that controlled Renna Hael. The ruling council was given authority to pass laws throughout the world, dependent on a majority vote. The result was that possession of Renna Hael gave a kingdom veto power in all decisions, but not sufficient power to pass laws unilaterally. The first law that was agreed upon was that the three kingdoms would cease military action against one another, restricting conflict to Renna Hael, which was established as an independent fourth kingdom. Over the following century much of the diplomatic infrastructure that we now take for granted was developed, since cooperation across kingdoms was now more important than military might. Each city retained a standing army in order to deal with issues within their kingdom and to compete for Renna Hael, but most citizens became uninvolved and uninterested in military affairs.

Now, in the seventh century since the inauguration of the Fourth Kingdom, armies have become highly specialized and skilled at skirmishing rather than conquest. It is rare for a kingdom to control Renna Hael for longer than a decade or two. During periods of strength, other kingdoms court the controlling nation for favour so that laws can benefit them. When control shifts, so do the court diplomats, who move between nations freely. Diplomatic immunity is now regarded as one of the central laws of our land; it is considered an offense of the highest level to kill or harm another kingdom’s representative. It is considered the highest honour to serve in this capacity, and as such educational, religious, governmental, and business leaders all work to achieve recognition in their fields with the hopes of being selected for diplomatic duties. It is for this reason that this week, the city of Serpaniss will be gathered in celebration of the return of Mekhildor, one of our foremost diplomats. His accomplishments are manyfold, but perhaps the greatest is his brokerage of the Law of Restitution which requires land that has transferred between kingdoms in the past to be restored to their original nationality when proof is provided. This allowed Serpaniss to regain its position as the greatest of the cities, and by itself would be sufficient for Mekhildor to make a bid for Chief Sage in this year’s election. I am sure you are aware that this week’s celebration is expected to be one of the largest feasts in the last decade; I hope that this overview of our history helps you understand why that is, and how vital diplomats like Mekhildor are to our city’s wellbeing.

Kel sighed and set down his stylus as he completed this last sentence. His feelings were mixed, as usual. He was glad to complete another lesson for his students, but he knew that many of them would forget much of what he said before he was finished. Such was the nature of teaching middle school students. Ten-year-olds were simply too distractible to enjoy serious topics like history. He often wondered why he had chosen to become a middle school history teacher in the first place; teaching upper school would have been much more satisfying. Ah well, seeds planted, I suppose, he thought as he carefully blotted the extra ink from the parchment.

Kel finished blotting and placed the parchment in the drawer of his desk. Kel always wrote his lessons in full manuscript, so that he could refer to them in the future. In his ten years of teaching, he had learned that the best lessons were ones which you could repeat a number of times, refining them until they were perfected. Someday he hoped to compile a number of his lectures to form a book; in the Serpanian scholastic world, the only path to advancement was publication. Although rare, on occasion even a middle school teacher could advance as far as a teaching post at the university. Few topics fascinated the scholastic world like the founding of the Fourth Kingdom, but Kel still hoped to someday make a contribution to the field. He would be a fool to count on it, but he could dream. Rising from his desk, he blew out the small lamp mounted on the wall and crossed the small room to his bed.

As usual, Kel’s thoughts drifted as he moved toward sleep. He thought of the next morning’s class, in which he would deliver his lecture on the upcoming feast. He thought of the feast itself, which he would be attending as part of the middle school’s faculty, an invitation he had been surprised but excited to receive. But most of all, he thought of the book that he would write, completely unaware that in only a few days he would be drawn into an opportunity that would give him more insight into the Fourth Kingdom than he could ever imagine.

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