History of Mer'Kresh (book)

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History of Mer'Kresh

by Lindryl Jinsaith, sometimes bard and dedicated to Keirnen Allvar, always beloved

Author's note to Scholars -- Although I am of Leth, Rissan blood flows bright within me. My mother's family is of M'Riss and her early labor while visiting her kin resulted in my birth in Mer'Kresh instead of Leth, as my father had wished. Therefore, I presume to write a history of these extraordinary people and hope it will find a useful and worthy place among scholars. To help in placing events within context of the whole of Elanthian history, should you be interested in such pursuits, dates have been included within this text as Elanthians commonly mark time (since the Victory of Lanival), and is expressed here as (CT date). These dates may seem erroneous when compared to volumes by native authors, but can be explained by checking the dating method employed by the writer -- the Rissan calendar marks time from when M'Riss was settled and generally does not attach much importance to off-island events.

There is no romance in war. The bards may sing of valiant deeds and brilliant battles, of courage, vanquished evil, and glory. Blood and terror, sorrow and loss don't earn a warm space by the fire or a tankard of mead for the belly. Petty spats and struggles for power between the nobility mean no more than a burnt home and dead sons to the commoner. And so it was for Tamris and Sahra, who led a group of refugees in flight from the War of Tears, across the sea to their new homeland, M'Riss (CT-1007).

The War of Tears drove Rissan forebearers, people who chose interracial marriages between Human and Elf, to find a new home. As they wandered among the islands of Qi'Reshalia, they found the S'Kra were suspicious of outsiders, nor did the exiles take easily to S'Kra ways. But, from these S'Kra the refugees heard tales of a small island which the S'Kra of the province called "The Island of the Damned". The children giggled at the name because the gasping S'Kra words sounded like a hiccuping camel. The adults, perhaps feeling some commonality with the damned, decided this would become home.

The Human and Elven settlers knew little of what is now named M'Riss. The S'Kra tales said that the "Ancients" founded the ruined city on the island. These legends described the old race as one that lived when Grazhir still circled Elanthia -- perhaps even the city of the gods themselves before they battled the World Dragon. Other stories claimed the Ancient Ones were mages who dared compare themselves to the gods and paid for their arrogance. Still more stories suggest this race of mages built the Star Stones, and that those megaliths are actually a portal to another world through which those mages disappeared. Whatever the truth, the city now lies in ruins, destroyed by time and volcanic activity.

In the centuries after the Ancient Ones, the island was abandoned. The animals that could adapt to the island's harsh environment flourished and evolved. The S'Kra clans made several attempts to settle the island, all failures.

The frequent volcanic eruptions, and native fevers were deadly. Legends of ghostly inhabitants and cursed mages grew with each attempted colony. M'Riss acquired a reputation for being bad luck and even the hardiest pioneers refused to go there. Superstition grew into a legend that the souls of the damned go to M'Riss instead of walking the Starry Path to join with the gods. For all the thousands of years intervening the time the S'Kra clans migrated out of Ratha to the War of Tears, M'Riss remained uninhabited and actively avoided (CT-5500 to CT-1008).

Finally, after lying fallow for so many centuries, new settlers came, Human and Elven, determined to make a home. However, the island's isolation did not end. The refugees wanted nothing to do with the outside world. It wasn't safe for them on the mainland, and the S'Kra didn't want them anymore than they wished to foist themselves upon the S'Kra. Determined, the refugees began to rebuild the ancient city, settle the island and make a wary peace with her. Proud, scorned and scorning, they had to; there was no place left to go (CT-1006).

During the restoration of the ancient city, metal tablets with writing were found. Amazingly, the script was an old form of Elven. The settlers took this as a sign that the true sons and daughters of the island had returned. Two words recurred on the tablets: "M'Riss" and "Mer'Kresh". Nobody knew what the words meant, but they had a pleasant sound and were easy to speak. Since few people could say the S'Kra name for the island, and indeed, most of the settlers had just taken to calling their new home "the island" or "here" the island was rechristened "M'Riss" and the first known post-voyage celebration was held (CT-1005). The city became known as Mer'Kresh, and the settlers started to refer to themselves as "Rissans".

Life was difficult on M'Riss. The same illnesses that plagued the S'Kra killed the Rissans and the volcano belched and shook the earth. Yellow clouds of poisonous gas seeped from the crevices and bowls of the smaller volcanos. With practice the settlers discovered which fruit became unfit to eat as it ripened, and which caused sickness if it wasn't mature.

Even so, these living conditions were better than having Keirnion's followers try to murder you for marrying a Human, or for the deceased Kanton's followers to do the same because you had wed an Elf.

On the mainland, the War of Tears continued. A secret trade route developed between M'Riss and Leth Deri'el. Smugglers shipped supplies to M'Riss, and brought back cargos of rum, exotic fruit, brandy, and samatak. Rissan privateers captured ships from both sides of the war, boldly masquerading as either Keirnion's men to board Kanton's ships, or as Kanton's troops to seize one of Keirnion's prizes. People friendly to the Rissan philosophy of racial acceptance were discretely allowed passage to M'Riss. People found to be intolerant were tossed to the fish. Finally, word came that the War of Tears had ended (CT-1003).

Once the war was over, the Rissans decided to keep as low a profile as a group of smugglers can maintain. They remained neutral to all outside politics and concentrated on colonizing their island. Through contacts in Leth, they kept aware of outside events but never forgot, nor were willing to forgive, the treatment they had received from Human and Elven alike. As time passed, the Rissans developed a peculiar brand of racism -- rather than believing that any particular race was inherently worse than any other, they simply came to believe all off-islanders were "esheceni". For the most part, the Rissans succeeded in evading notice, and lived as they wished while trying to mold the island into a thriving home.

While the Rissans worked, the outside world ate more of its sons' lives. Wars and squabbles were the normal condition of the Empire but the Rissans took little notice of these conflicts. What interest they did have, centered on carefully culling ships from warring factions. As in the War of Tears, the Rissan privateers disguised themselves when attacking.

They were cautious to take only a few ships and even then only under conditions that could be explained by storms or a captain's bad luck in encountering the enemy. Plundering ships was fun, but having the combatants turn their attentions to M'Riss wouldn't be at all enjoyable. Eventually, like the other wars before it, these scattered tantrums ended and the Rissans were surprised to learn they had been conquered, in a manner of speaking. The Province of Qi'Reshalia had became part of the Seven-Starred Empire, and whether Qi'Reshalia was actually aware of the Rissans or not, the Empire was aware of, and claimed, that section of ocean containing M'Riss (CT-830). Any doubt the Rissans had that they were now citizens of the Empire was swept away when two ships of Imperial troops landed on the island and established a garrison (CT-829).

M'Riss wasn't alone in acquiring an Imperial garrison. All inhabited islands received this gift from the Imperial Army, whether deserving or not. The soldiers assigned to M'Riss were met mostly with indifference. The garrison commander issued a great many officious orders, which the Rissans casually ignored. The soldiers set about building their fortress in the forest east of Mer'Kresh. On paydays, the soldiers would visit town, strutting around in typical Imperial style, which impressed none but young women, who adored flashy uniforms. As the months passed, and the lonely soldiers became acquainted with the local ladies, marriages between them were made and babies followed. The garrison commander nodded happily, pleased that the Rissans would be absorbed into the Empire peacefully. The Rissan elders nodded happily, pleased that the soldiers would be absorbed into the native population and ultimately become Rissan. And from that time, the blood of each side mingled within children (CT-827).

Although the Rissan Elders were initially annoyed by the garrison's arrival, the soldiers soon proved to be more than marriage fodder for excess daughters. The soldiers numbered many professions among them, including talented engineering mages and empaths. The soldiers and Rissans taught each other so far as they could, and a few guild masters attracted by the garrison and isolation settled on M'Riss.

Three years after the garrison arrived, a particularly violent volcanic eruption shook the city to the ground and buried much of it in ash (CT-826). The forests and fields were ruined and the people fled their homes. Some of these soldiers and their families crossed the island's leeward desert to the coast. There, they decided to build a new fortification for the garrison. Other settlers and soldiers fled to the bay contained within the curved crescent of the southern shore to wait out the eruption. They lashed boats together and floated on the bay, beyond the reach of the lava bombs. This sparked the idea of making a permanent floating platform where the Rissans could wait out future eruptions.

Over the years the platform became anchored, was expanded and eventually became the city of concentric rings we know today. Work to rebuild the ancient city was abandoned, and the new city took its name, Mer'Kresh (CT-825). The ancient city acquired other names, "Yana Ichaleni" ("City of Shadows"), and "Yana Undoen" ("City of Darkness").

By the time the central platform was completed (CT-793), the number of Rissans has blossomed, making both fresh water and space scarce. A causeway was built from the mainland to support an aqueduct, but the complex wasn't finished for close to a century (CT-700). Once the supply of fresh water for Mer'Kresh was secure, the Rissans began building a ring and bridges around the central platform to increase living space (CT-698 to CT-574). By this time the volcano had been dormant since the great eruption that sent the settlers fleeing the ancient city. Because of the calm, Rissans gradually began to move back to the island, easing the pressures for space on Mer'Kresh.

A second ring was started just after the last of the Dragon Priest faction was subdued (CT 22), but since the Rissans are currently comfortable in the space they have on Mer'Kresh, building has been slow, and may never be finished, especially with the asara celpezan having taken over the uninhabited portions of the outer ring. These fearsome creatures are a variety of sea lizard with sharp claws, poisonous saliva, and a heavy barbed tail which can rip through a body in full plate like a marmozel chewing a ripe esturi fruit.

Long before the causeway and aqueduct were complete, Mer'Kresh had become large enough that it began to suffer from the social ills that plague all successful cities. However, the citizens had a different approach to crime than the rest of the Empire. The Imperial Garrison was transformed into a penal colony, called Jeza Aul Elo (CT-750).

Anyone foolish enough to violate Rissan law was (and still is) summarily dumped there. There are no fines or stocks, only hard work in the Governor's petunia gardens beneath the scorching sun -- if the prisoner is lucky. Conditions are cruel, but escape is possible for the clever or well connected. A loose confederation of outlaws formed which, for a price, would help escapees regain possessions and even help mask identities.

From the time the Imperial soldiers arrived until the mild unpleasantness with the Dragon Priests, the Rissans were content, prosperous and culture flourished, along with a healthy smuggling trade. Off-islanders were rare, save for those freebooting contacts in Leth. Rissan children often found it necessary to leave the island for advanced training in some guilds or to study at the university in Leth. Sometimes they would marry away from home and bring their mates back to the island or settle in Leth where passage to M'Riss could be had. But always, the ties to M'Riss and Mer'Kresh were strong and not easily discarded.

The Rissans knew when the Empire began to crumble, of the struggle between Teiro and Lanival, and the various conflicts among Elanthians. For many Rissans it simply meant greater opportunities for privateers and capturing vessels. What happened on the mainland was the mainland's problem and the Rissans wanted no part of it.

Of more concern was the rise of the Dragon Priests and the missionaries being sent among the islands (CT-194). M'Riss was still known to the S'Kra by its old name, and the old fears and superstitions among the S'Kra were strong. With guile and illusion, the Rissans reinforced those legends about the Island of the Damned. And perhaps the stories are true, for even now few S'Kra can tolerate the island. With no S'Kra living on M'Riss to convert, it wasn't long before the frightened Dragon Priest missionaries pronounced M'Riss worthless and left.

The Rissans quietly shored up their defenses. But in the end, old fears and plain apathy proved to be their best allies. Despite Rissan worries, M'Riss and her ringed city, Mer'Kresh, were too far from the main Qi'Rashalia islands for the Dragon Priests to seriously bother with. There were no S'Kra living there, the island had little strategic importance, and after two insulting naval losses to the Rissans (CT-180 and CT-160), the Dragon Priests simply declared that M'Riss was a prison island and there was no need to bother with it further (CT-160).

After this face-saving proclamation, the Dragon Priests, more concerned with problems on the mainland, left the Rissans alone, more or less, on their "prison island." Every so often, the Dragon Priests would set a blockade on the island, which the Rissans treated as a game and delighted in running. At Dzree's death (CT-1), the Rissans watched with cautious amusement as the Dragon Priest factions began to rend each other's flesh, and drew easier breaths knowing the S'Kra had more important things to worry over than M'Riss.

To this day, despite its physical location in the Province of Qi'Reshalia, Mer'Kresh and M'riss have remained independent of S'Kra influence in their affairs. Curiously, visiting S'Kra are rarely comfortable there, claiming to hear threatening voices and see terrifying visions. The only S'Kra resident is a sad, tailless creature living in the penal colony. Shopkeepers rarely pay a S'Kra as well when buying, nor offer as good a price when selling -- if a S'Kra could get the shopkeeper's attention to begin with. This is slowly changing as the Rissans engage in trade with (instead of the piracy of) the S'Kra merchant families, but most Rissan contact with the outside world is still through Leth.