In The Absence of Eagles: Book 1 of the The Chronicle of the Shires

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Chapter 3: A geography lesson

Squire Belac crinkled his nose and groaned as he pulled the musty book from the shelf. He’d been assigned the task of writing a report on the geography of the land which was about the last thing he wanted to do at this point.

Why does this matter anyway?, he complained to himself. The apprentice could see the world around him by looking out a window and wanted to live it rather than study about it.

Master Hattush had been adamant that he do the report though. So with the deadline for the assignment the next day, the procrastinating youth grudgingly sat down in the Royal Library to begin the tedious undertaking.

Reading for several hours, the boy’s quick mind began to process the information. Content he had what he needed, Belac took a quill, dipped it into his traveling inkwell and began to write on a fresh piece of parchment:

From its earliest days, the land was known in song, story and written tradition by the title: ‘The World as it Matters’. Was this due to ignorance of other lands or arrogant regard for their own Belac wondered, putting down his quill? None could answer the question. This is just the way it had always been.

Taking up the writing instrument, the quick-minded squire continued to write.

From the shores of the Great Sea in the east ‘the World as it Matters’ stretches west through what is now called The Confederation of the Shires. In reality, this governing body is in fact representative of twelve separate kingdoms. The Confederation ends at a tremendous mountain range known as The Tartarus Mountains. Beyond, little is known since the span is impassible. Thus, whatever lies on the other side is referred to as The Forgotten Land, forgotten because of what has happened in the past and of which no one wishes to recall.

There still exists one known route into it, the Pass of Timnach. The path is never used anymore, though the mighty Fortress of Timnach stands as a silent reminder of what once was. The Pass is a break with the northern part of the impassible Forest of Gershon and the southern beginnings of the Tartarus Mountains.

As there is nothing of value to the west the route is not used, though in the past, as the legends go, dark raiders would sweep through it to attack the lands beyond. Hence the reason for the substantial castle, which now stands all but empty, a small garrison kept almost for nostalgic purposes.

It sounds about as interesting as the Squire’s Guild Hall, Belac reflected to himself. With a heavy sigh he continued to write about what he’d read.

To the south lies the Forest of Gershon. Thick, gloomy and impassible the expanse is home to strange troll-like creatures. Other than some timber cut from the periphery, the forest is given no thought. Adjoining it and separated by only a small range of hills is the Desert of Agog. True to its name, this territory is barren, dry and unforgiving. While as impassible as the Forest of Gershon, the Desert of Agog’s is for its span rather than density. Any attempt to explore has met with no favor, and sometimes with death.

In contrast to the wasteland to the south of the Confederation, the north is a thriving land rich in minerals. Hilly, mountainous and rugged, a number of independent bodies rule varying parts. While fashioned as The Northern Alliance the inhabitants of the north show little desire for unified governance and rather look to hoard their wealth through a system of clans.

There is talk of territories beyond, but none that the people who inhabit ‘the Land as it Matters’ are familiar with and in reality have little interest in. To them, their world is big enough.

People settle for ignorance way to easily, Belac thought chewing the end of his quill absently.

The center of the world continues to be the lands made up of the Confederation of the Shires. They are separate and unique, each in their own way. Some have resources, others farming, some craftsmen others traders. The Confederation’s shared bond is a desire for success with man as the dominant creature.

In the center is Carnelian, like the hub of a wheel. Though the fact is resented, much of the prosperity in the other lands rise and fall dependent on this shire’s fortunes. While geographically located in the middle, Carnelian also has the most breadth and balance in terms of what the others possess.

Looking again at the map, Belac ensured his comparison was accurate. He knew how Master Hattush hated exaggeration, or humor the teen added. It really does look like a wheel. Funny how it would be made that way, as if something or someone, planned it like that from the beginning.

Within the lands the shires encompass, travelers find rugged mountains, rolling hills, green valleys, deep forests, fertile soil in every form of combination.

While rivers, streams, lakes and ponds abound, the greatest water feature in the lands is the River Halcyon that cuts the Confederation nearly in half. Meandering through the center, it’s a vital form of transportation. Boats and barges can be seen plying the waters daily, bridges dot the course. All are testimonies of the prosperity it helps support.

Besides the Halcyon, there’s also a massive inlet just to the north of Sardonyx narrowing into a river that feeds into the Halcyon. This body is often used by the Northern Alliance as a key trade route to bring metals to buyers within the Confederation. So water is a critical feature of the territory.

The inhabitants of the lands are as varied as the geography. An assortment of man, beast and creature can be found. In the Shires, humans are supreme politically and numerically. Humans, with all their strengths and weaknesses, nobility and pettiness, have ruled the lands since the creation and expect to do so for eternity.

Belac grabbed a fresh piece of parchment from the polished table suddenly more interested in what he was scratching down.

In the north this is a different story. The Northern Alliance hold the territory known as Mahl. Within that land are the Mahlites and the Folkor. Squat, powerful, bearded Dwarven humanoids are the Mahlites. This hard working, clannish group are predominantly miners, though many have become quite wealthy through trade in the rich minerals to be found and sold to the Shires. Contrasting them is the Folkor. They are smaller, only about 3 ½ feet, and lighter, generally no more than 45 pounds, these gnome-like creatures love to tinker and build. While the Mahlites and Folkor are the biggest, several other groups such as goblins and small, lizard-like kobolds live and work in these rugged territories though they are kept in check.

Belac dipped his quill into the ink and paused. Sucking on the feather at the end he thought, now that would be an interesting place to visit. Brow furrowed, trying to keep from being distracted, the youth pressed on.

To the south there are the Gershonites who live in the Forest of Gershon. Obviously!

These troll-like beings are three-quarters the size of man, yet possess equal strength. Hairy and unpleasant to look at, they also exude a smell quite repugnant to all save their own kind. Secretive and isolationist, they remain within the confines of the forest ruling that as their own kingdom.

Though not possessing any land in the political sense, there are others who none-the-less make up the fabric of the land. There are Urchins who live among man in several kingdoms in the Shires. Farmers mostly, these child-sized people are peaceful, friendly and most industrious.

In addition there are Brownies who, while wild looking and combative, are but a few inches tall. Residing in only the densest forests of the Shires they are content to hunt small rodents and make their homes in trees. They often can be seen by those who venture deep into the woods riding squirrels or chipmunks, which they use as mounts.

Speaking of beasts, there is all form of domestic animal common in each of the Shires. Cows, sheep, pigs and horses, to mention a few, as well as fish in the streams and birds of all form in the air fill the land. The inhabitants of the World have domesticated some for their own use or consumption while others are wild and free calling no one master.

Beyond this group there are some creatures unique and special to these lands. The Roc, a huge bird with massive wingspan, is one of the more interesting. Found mostly in mountainous areas, it has the face of an eagle. The flyer is large enough that a man can sit across its back. Although this might be viewed as an excellent form of transportation, the Roc is fiercely independent. As a result, few have ever been successful at this endeavor and fewer still for any length of time.

Now that would be a lot of fun, Belac thought, allowing his mind to dream about the possibility of soaring above the clouds on such a creature.

Where hills are prevalent and prey abundant you might also find the Leucrocuta. Dog-like creatures with the face of a tiger, they hunt in packs, and are extremely ferocious. They will often swallow their prey in a few bites and then digest it using their tooth-lined stomachs. Gross!

Farmers need to be vigilant when the Leucrocuta is about since a herd of animals can be destroyed very quickly by a pack of them. In addition, he must be careful for his own safety since the beast is unafraid of man and may just as likely consume him or any member of his family.

Why don’t the rulers hunt them down? Belac pondered. That would be a quest I’d love to go on!

Of the quieter persuasion is the Kintail Deer. Gentle but extremely shy this majestic creature is difficult to spot and hard to catch due to the swiftness of their stride. Found in rocky areas, this animal has the sweetest tasting meat you will ever experience and is therefore most valued. Due to their rarity, it’s an expensive dish.

Along the coastal areas and found sometimes in larger rivers that drain into the sea are Kelpies. Green, fish-faced amphibians and only two feet tall they possess limbs like man. The strange looking swimmers can only live outside of the water for a short period of time. Mostly reclusive, they do possess a mischievous spirit. As such Kelpies will occasionally damage fisherman’s nets and traps as well as releasing boats from their moorings.

Also in the sea is found the majestic Hippocampus. An untamed, graceful stallion-like creature, people will often sit upon the cliffs on the coast to watch them frolic. Hippocampus can jump and swim so their head and torso will often be above the water. While restricted to the sea it can survive above water for great lengths of time.

Little is known about what lies beyond the mountains to the west. Tales and folklore mainly persist about Wyverns, who are dragons, and other such ferocious beasts. Most say that’s the fare of peasants and those less learned, something entertaining for long winter evenings. The mountains act as a buffer and as there is no profit in exploration of that region none has been undertaken. Since it’s not something for anyone to contend with, little action is taken to confirm the stories.

I thought they were only the type of things that bards sang about in their legends, the young squire thought to himself. How could something that magnificent actually exist and we not know about it?

The youth then turned to a subject on the land that actually did interest him. It fascinated him in fact.

There is magic in the lands: spell-casting and healing predominantly. As with any other trait in man, there are some who do it for good and others for evil. This does not dominate the scene but rather is part of the flow of skill’s usage in the world. It’s no different then possessing the power to operate the plow, the hammer or the sword. The impact though has waned the past century as man has found the study necessary to perfect the art too tedious. As a result there are not any practitioners of note left in the land. Those who may continue these ancient ways exist as isolated examples. They are mostly eccentric users who hold onto it as a lost ability inhabiting the fringes of society.

Belac paused again. He studied the words he’d written in the last paragraph. Several times he raised his quill to strike it out and rewrite the passage. Instead, deciding to leave things where they lay, he continued on.

No, in the end it is the vision and beliefs of those who inhabit the lands, their passions and principles, which chart the course for the world around them. The rest are merely tools to be employed in the undertaking.

Squire Belac closed the musty book he’d been reading then put down the quill on the parchment that held his report. Bored out of his mind, the teenager went to sleep, his head filled with thoughts of adventure rather than geography. His assignment could wait.

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