By Grant Smuts
*note – this work was published four years prior to the arrival of Morvannon
From Hallan Ren’s ‘A True Guide to Valharrow’
…Beyond the shadowy past of Rensmouth Academy, the shards of an unguessed past jutted from the ground like the bones of long-dead beasts. The city of Valharrow holds many mysteries, and the deathroads of its underground catacombs form a very small part of it. The walls were built in the days before the Lysene Empire, and when that faltering giant eventually stumbled to this continent in its dying days centuries later, those walls saw reinforcement.
The city within was partially segregated, as were all cities in those days, but nowhere else was there such an uneven division of wealth. The nobility of Valharrow are among the richest in all the world, while its poor are among the poorest. Despite this, there is a fierce pride to its inhabitants, and though no accurate survey has been made, there are few who are considered to be truly desperate.
There is a thieves’ guild in the city, though it is thought that Khalamat* has lost control over the organization in Valharrow and its major holds. Rumour has it that a fallen nobleman from Sunara has taken control of the local gangs, though this has yet to be substantiated. Crime is muted within the city, though certain leaders among Valharrow’s guardsmen suggest that this is because the crime-lords have halted pointless territory disputes for higher-level corruption. Naturally, lower level gang wars still break out on occasion, though they are nowhere near as frequent as they were a century ago.
Shadows of the King
Much of the crime is confined to Docks and Lower Districts of the city, only occasionally spilling over to the Merchant’s Quarters. Against the ever-present threat of crime (and against the growing threat of assassination), King Rothwain II instituted ‘The Shadows of The King’ as a task force to hunt down the crime lords – or to serve as military intelligence agents. The only member known by name is Cyren, who is thought to be from the city of Cloudrend, and believed to be the leader of the Shadows of the King.
Nicknamed ‘The King’s Red Shadow’, Cyren is known to be the King’s personal assassin and bodyguard.
However, the Shadows of the King have only had mixed success up to this point in rooting out crime and corruption, and it is believed that the other three members own estates in the Merchant and Nobles’ Districts of the city.
The market-place of the Merchant Quarter is lively and is the largest area in the city-state and has many estates that house travellers from other major cities. The Merchant Quarter is known for its souks and is considered a major hub of commerce by other cities.
The Nobles District is relatively small and far more subdued than the rest of the city. Most of its manses and villas are empty, with its major families preferring to live in their outlying holds, where they might live and act with greater autonomy. However, every noble makes an effort to attend the king’s bi-monthly banquet.
The Great Watchman
One of the most obvious landmarks of Valharrow is the colossus known as the Great Watchman. Bearing a shield and sword, he is one of the world’s great mysteries, for it existed long before the first stone of Valharrow was laid. In the early days, pilgrims would pray to the statue, believing it to be an effigy of the elder beasts of space-time. Though people know better now, they still look to the Great Watchman as Valharrow’s guardian spirit.
Tower of Dedication
The other landmark of Valharrow is the Tower of Dedication, which houses the Order of Saint Audren. Crafted of magical blackstone, it serves as a siphon of magical energy, and its denizens use the tower’s ability to track any magic in the city. No one outside the Order knows the mechanisms dictating its ability – no other blackstone structures have been able to duplicate it, and the Order is not forthcoming in this (and other) information. Conjecture abounds, but many tie it to the old myth cycles of Rykisedek – how the great enemy of the Order altered the nature of the very stones of Valharrow.
For centuries, the Tower was the tallest building in Valharrow, taller even than the palace of the king, until the turn of this century, when Rothwain II commissioned a spire in honour of his late wife.
It will require scholars of history to adequately speak of the Order, for what I know is no more and no less than what everyone else knows. They are the peacekeepers, the hunters of shadows, the destroyers of dark magic, the protectors of the common folk. They fight battles no one else can, the bridge between the mundane and the arcane. A common saying goes that death is needed to humble kings and emperors, while to humble magic, one requires the Order.
Their jurisdiction spans the continent – for wheresoever there is evil magic, the Order’s blade must descend. I looked upon their tower, and though it seemed at first ominous and brooding, I came to understand that there was no greater guardian against arcane evil in all of Amarith.
Recently, their Hierophant has issued a Policy of Recall, a withdrawal of their forces from the surrounding lands. And while guilds and academies across the continent now heave a collective sigh of relief, this decision has come under serious scrutiny and criticism. The people now speak against the Order, whispering that their day is done, that they will crumble into nothing, as did Rensmouth Academy of old. I don’t know what to make of these rumours. Yet I know that they have not withdrawn entirely, that whatever course the Hierophant has decided upon must, ultimately be for the greater good. A duty of care is not so lightly thrown aside. I do not doubt that we will see them return, that we will once again bear witness to their wonders and feel their grim and gentle protection once more. For now, I think that the Order is searching for the many mysteries below Valharrow, for hints of that unguessed past.
Khalamat: Thought to be the leader of the Thieves’ Guild across the continent. He has recently lost control of his westernmost organizations.
Lysene Empire: The post Lysinium Republic, characterised by a government headed by emperors and large territorial holdings around the Dreaming Sea.
Order of Saint Audren: A holy order of warriors, dedicated to the destruction of evil arcane forces. Their abilities allow them to completely deaden all magic.
Sunara: The empire of the far-east, known for their fierce warriors.