These things I learned from the librams hidden beneath the walls of Morvrey.
It is all the truth, or believed to be…
Rabago the Mapmaker & Adventurer
….and after the Ill’ithid and their living ships of bone and blood departed the Vaer, their slaves, which we know as the First Men (including the Halfwise ), crawled from beneath their master’s skinkeeps and spread outward into a new dawn. Little more than squabbling tribes, they sought safety among the Dwur and the Eldurin , fought amongst each other with weapons of bone and iron, and hunted the monstrous thralls bred and then released by the Ill’ithid upon the land.
But in the South, near the peaks of Machlan Mal and the Abbor Alz, later to be called the Bonegate, some First Men turned from mere weapons to dark rituals; arcane arts of a wicked nature. Making pacts with beings fey and infernal, and worse, these men became the Shadrim , and in time hammered their scattered mageholds and spellspires into the empire of Bael Turath.
For years unrecorded, Bael Turath crouched under a cloud of stinging smoke, the mottled eyes of the Shadrim ever searching for more to call their own. Thus, it was inevitable that the Cairn Jale, infernal legions of the Shadrim Sword Pact, would finally cross blades with the Blood of Dragons, what we now call the Dragonborn, deep in the darkened jungles of Arkhosia. An ancient empire of scale and venom, Arkhosia had already suffered years of blood and strife, and the Dragonborn saw amongst the Shadrim spellspires outlines of their own hated Yuan-ti ziggurats….
So we know this as the time of Smoke and Scale, as Bael Turath and Arkhosia waged a war unimaginable. Using blade and magecraft, summoning beasts and demons, Dragonborn and Shadrim warriors spilled blood over Hastwith and Machlan Mal and left skulls to bleach at the Bonegate. At the end, Arkhosia sat ruined and Bael Turath lay broken, for there were no more warriors left to fight, and no more fields free for battle.
But not all men had become Shadrim; some still lurked within the shadowed corners of Bael Turath, or skulked in the middle marches of the Vaer. And although many more had been enslaved by their Shadrim kindred, as the mageholds cracked open and the spellspires sat hollow, they took what treasures and weapons they could and fled toward freedom. It was then truly that the Bannerlands were born; men rallied to the flags of self-proclaimed warkings, fighting over land and plunder that each would call their own. Even though the time of Smoke and Scale had scarcely drawn to a close, the Bannerlands were wracked by more years of warring, more years of blood.
Finally, it was the Warking Angwed Rath who forced all the tribes to kneel beneath his own emblazon, and set himself up as the first Grand King in the city of Banner near Cairn Lake. From the ashes of Bael Turath and the burned banners of a hundred tribes rose Bael Nerath, the Empire of Man. Beneath the lengthening shadow cast by Man, the Dwur and the Eldurin retreated to their wild places, and for the first time in the Vaer - in the Bannerlands - peace took hold, even if it came at the end of the Grand King’s sword. Cities and schools were built, art and commerce flourished. And what once were tribes eventually became noble Houses, and the greatest House of all was House Rath.
But second only to House Rath was House Nentir, aligned for hundreds of years by both blood and politics. It was the Lord of House Nentir, Galidan Nentir, who established the city of Dal Avar in what became Nentir Vale, and as Banner flourished in what some called the Middle March, Dal Avar became known as the Banner of the North.
Nentir Vale was a place of the old ways – the edge of civilization - cloaked in mists and dotted with ancient ringforts, and surrounded by the Dim Weld in the South and protected from the North and Stone Marches by the mountains of Badham’s Wall. Yet, even in this rough place, the heirs of Galidan Nentir brought other Houses to the fold, and made agreements with the Eldurin in the Western reaches of the Vale and the Dwur in the peaks. As the Vale grew stronger - became more independent - it was soon whispered in the courts in Banner that perhaps House Nentir had returned to other old ways as well, seeking out Shadrim magic long since lost with the passing of Bael Turath. It was claimed that House Nentir was deep in league with infernals, seeking power to invade Banner and the other cities of the Middle March.
So it did not go unnoticed when House Nentir built the Towers Walk, a string of watch towers along Nentir Vale’s southern boundary. Edifices of stone and iron, all facing in the direction of Banner…
It was Grand King Severis Rath who finally demanded that House Nentir yield its titles and claims and kneel once again at the court in Banner. But Lord Gyrrin Nentir sent only his finest robe, wrapped in farmer’s string, saying (without words) that the Grand King might own the titles but never the man. Thus began the War of the Robe, which plunged the Bannerlands once more into chaos.
As war flared, those who had warded the wild areas of the Stone and North Marches, as well as the huge mountains of the Spine that run the entire length of the Eastern Bannerlands, turned their attention elsewhere. The Spine and the Marches harbored creatures hateful of mankind, goblinkin and giants and worse. Long held at bay by the Dwur and Eldurin, and later by the rise of Bael Nerath itself, these creatures saw the Nerathian war fires burn from their high mountain holds, and plotted.
Joined together by two warleaders of their own (the Urvain, a great hobgoblin monstrosity, and the White Ruin, a gnoll lord), these creatures, calling themselves the Morrigu, swept down into the Bannerlands; burning, enslaving, killing. With few legions mobilized to stop them, the Morrigu marched freely through the very blood they spilled.
Although the horrors inflicted by the Morrigu are well recorded, one of the greatest of this time was caused by human hands. Even as the Morrigu marched, the bloody siege of the Nentir Vale continued without end, and savents advising the Grand King created a scheme to break House Nentir once and for all. Using tools and magecraft not seen since the time of Smoke and Scale, the Angreal River in Nentir Vale was damned and turned, and over night, the shining city of Dal Avar was drowned.
Thousands of Valemen – including women, children – were lost beneath the waters. House Nentir was truly no more, but it would mean nothing, for soon there would be no court in Banner to claim victory.
The eastern flank of Banner had always been protected by the deep, dark waters of Cairn Lake. But the Morrigu secretly crossed the Fairin Peaks that rise above the Cairn, and on the heavily forested shores of the lake (at the place we now call Treefall), they crafted by hand hundreds of small boats. The Morrigu then navigated the waters by moonlight, and fell upon a sleeping Banner before dawn. Echoing the destruction at Dal Avar, they killed every man, woman, and child in Banner. The city was razed, Grand King Severis Rath was served as food at a banquet for the Urvain and the White Ruin, the House of Rath was lost, and, almost overnight, Bael Nerath, the Empire of Man, was at an end.
* * * * *
It has been more than a hundred years since the Morrigu tore the Bannerlands asunder. For reasons still unknown to sages and savents, the bulk of the Morrigu hordes later withdrew to the Marches and back over the Spine, perhaps fighting other battles or enemies unknown to us. Yet many of them remained, and gnolls, kurs, and other things still lurk in our forests and hills, and in the caves beneath our feet. They gnaw the bones of Bael Nerath that litter the countryside; keeps and castles, cities and villages – as cracked and weathered as the mageholds of the lost empire of Bael Turath in the South. We haunt these ruins too; an empty empire of our own, tended by ghosts.
I write these words in Mistwatch, on the northern falls of the Angreal. Further south, the towers of Dal Avar rise above still waters. I traveled there once, to plunder secrets and treasure from the sunken city…
From my inn’s room I can see a yellowed, thumbnail moon over Badham’s Wall, and hear through the window slats dire wolves in the nearby Thorn Hills. Bael Nerath may be gone, but Man lives on, here in the towns that cling to life in the Vale, and in the other small villages that dot what we once called the Bannerlands, Someone watching from the woods outside would see my small lantern, a warm pale glow pushing against the dark. I imagine now there are thousands of such lights sparkling across the lands, like gold coins scattered on velvet…
…the last remaining treasures of a once great empire.
A Bannerlands Lexicon of People, Places and Things
Abbor Alz: The Bonegate – A contested pass in the mountains of Machlan Mal during the time of Smoke and Scale.
Angreal River: A significant waterway in the Nentir Vale.
Arkhosia: The Dragonborn Empire.
Badham’s Wall: A mountain range bordering the northern part of the Nentir Vale.
(Bael) Nerath: The Empire of Man.
Bael Turath: The Shadrim Empire
Banner: The greatest city, or even City-State, of (Bael) Nerath. It sits in an area sometimes called the Middle March or Middle Kingdom, south of Nentir Vale and the North and Stone Marches, and north of what used to be Bael Turath.
(The) Bannerlands: The known lands of Man; precursor to (Bael) Nerath but often used interchangeably.
Barony of Harkenweld: A smaller wooded area within the Dim Weld in the Nentir Vale, the Barony has a political history extending to the War of the Robe.
Blackwier: A blade carried by Lord Gyrrin Nentir, the last lord of House Nentir. Legends say it is an artifact of great power, and lies submerged somewhere in Dal Avar.
(The) Blood of Dragons: Dragonborn.
(The) Brade: A large lake in the Nentir Vale.
Dal Avar: A sunken city in the Nentir Vale, and the seat of power in the Vale during its day (pronounced by Valemen as “dalavar”).
Dim Weld: A huge, ancient wood that occupies the southern areas of Nentir Vale and further into the Middle March.
Eldurin: Collectively, Elves and Eladrin. The split between these races occurred sometime in the early history of the Vaer.
Fellspire: The most (in)famous volcanic peak in Bael Turath.
Feywild: The supposed home realm of the Fey (such as the Eldurin), it is an “echo” of the mortal world. Savents believe there are areas in the Bannerlands that “slip into” the Feywild, and some people believe such areas exist in the Dim Weld and in the Nentir Vale, particularly in the Sword Weld and Cloak Wood. The Feywild allegedly has its own version of the Underdark, known as the Feydark.
Gant: A small village in Nentir Vale.
Gardmore Abbey: An abandoned ruin for more than 150 years, it sits on the Gardbury Downs south of the village of Gant in Nentir Vale. It has a fell reputation.
Hammerfast: A dwur/dwarfhold in the mountains of Badham’s Wall.
Hastwith: A desert in southern Bael Turath.
House Nentir: (Former) Noble House of the Nentir Vale.
House Rath: (Former) Noble House of the Grand King of (Bael) Nerath
Ill’ithid: The legendary slave masters who brought mankind to the Vaer.
Kur: A race of bipedal, rat-like creatures; they were the part of the Morrigu invasion of (Bael) Nerath.
Lake Nen: A large lake in the far northern section of the Nentir Vale. On its shores sits the ruined town of Fastormel. Both the lake and the ruins have a fell reputation.
Machlan Mal: A mountain range marking the boundary between Bael Turath and Arkhosia.
Magehold: A Shadrim dwelling, associated with arcane learning.
Mistwatch: A significant town of the Nentir Vale, tucked in the Thorn Hills, on the falls of the Angreal River.
(The) Morrigu: The inhuman hordes that swept across (Bael) Nerath and led to the fall of the Empire of Man.
Morvrey: A “college” for arcane research. It has a decidedly dark reputation.
North March: A band of rugged lands beyond Nentir Vale.
Savent: An advisor/alchemist/historian. Has some magical training, and often associated with Morvrey. A small village or town might have a savent, rather than a wizard.
Shadowfell: Another “echo” of the mortal world, the Shadowfell is the supposed land of the dead, where the spirits of the deceased linger for a time in a dark reflection of their previous lives. Savents say that some undead creatures are born in the Shadowfell, other undead are bound to it, but even some living things call it home.
Shield Lakes: A region of numerous lakes in the Sword Weld in the eastern Nentir Vale.
Spellspire: A Shadrim dwelling, associated with arcane learning.
(The) Spine: A huge mountain range bisecting the eastern edge of the Bannerlands.
Staff: The arbiter of law in a village or town (similar to a Mayor). Typically, one of the representatives of a noble House in that liege town.
Stone March: Rugged lands beyond Nentir Vale.
Sword: The arbiter of order in a village or town (similar to a Sheriff). Typically, one of the representatives of a noble House in that liege town.
Sword Barrow: A burial mound in the desolate Gray Downs in Nentir Vale. So named because of the rusted blades unearthed there.
Sword Weld: An ancient wood that fills the western part of the Nentir Vale (and itself includes a smaller area known as the Cloak Wood), it is unclear where the northern edge of the Dim Weld ends and the Sword Weld begins. It has long been believed that Eldurin (both Elves and Eladrin) hide within the Sword Weld or along the forested western mountain peaks sometimes called “The Sheath”.
Temple of Skulls: The ruins of an evil shrine north of Mistmarch in the Nentir Vale.
Thunderspire: A striking peak that rises out of the Old Hills in the Nentir Vale. An ancient city known as Saruun Khel lies beneath its rock heights.
Time of Smoke and Scale: The war between Bael Turath and Arkhosia.
Towers Walk: A series of ruined watch towers that cross the southern boundaries of the Nentir Vale.
Treefall: The region where the Morrigu crafted their wooden boats for the assault on Banner.
Underdark: The cavernous world alleged to lie beneath the Bannerlands.
(The) Urvain: A legendary warleader of the Morrigu.
(The) Vaer: The continent of the Bannerlands, or in some cases, the known world.
(The) Wains: A region of forested farmlands (Wain Donnel, Wain Far’afield, Wain Sallow, etc.) in the Middle March.
War of the Robe: War between noble Houses (particularly House Rath and House Nentir) in (Bael) Nerath.
Weld: Ancient word meaning “woods” or “forest” (such as the Dim Weld, Sword Weld, etc.)
(The) White Ruin: A legendary warleader of the Morrigu.
Witchlight Fens: A fell swamp in the Nentir Vale.
Yuan-ti: Slave lords and despots in Arkhosia.