People's History of Ain Ghazal (book)

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A People's History of Ain Ghazal

-* Introduction *-

Ain Ghazal serves as the gateway to Forfedhdar, connecting the Dwarven homeland with Ilaya Taipa (the Elves' River Clan) and thus, the province of Zoluren. The Sisterhood of the Rose claims the island as their home. They have built their elegant fortress directly into the rock of the limestone cliffs on the island, with many of the chateau's rooms and gardens facing outward to overlook the river and the lands beyond. Since the Sisters and the island have only recently been revealed to the world in 384 A.V., this text will attempt to provide an account of the area's storied past by focusing on the development of the land and the relationship between the Sisters and neighboring Forfedhdar.

-* Chapter One: Earliest Times *-

In 2496 B.L., Hibarnhvidar officials signed a series of trade accords with a group of Humans from Zoluren. The issue most debated was that of duties, with the Dwarves characteristically refusing to sign a trade agreement to remove all taxes on the land and imported goods. Over the next few hundred years, the exchange of goods commenced in and out of Forfedhdar, with the island being one of the primary staging grounds for what some say was illicit trade. Neither side -- the Dwarves or the Humans -- took much issue with some of the more underground activities due to the fact that both groups profited from the financial interactions.

In these developmental years, two significant groups made note of the island and its possibilities: Gor'Tog entrepreneurs and the earliest members of the Sisterhood of the Rose. The natural limestone caverns of the island were used for shelter and gathering places. No significant building went on above ground at this point. The only exception was a hidden jetty constructed for nighttime transport across the river.

-* Chapter Two: The Sisterhood *-

No discussion of Ain Ghazal is complete without detailing the origins and evolution of the Sisterhood of the Rose. Its history is intimately intertwined with that of the island. Ain Ghazal would be a very different place today had the order not chosen to focus their efforts on the land.

The story goes that in 2099 B.L., Kworlogian Dwarves discovered the body of a maiden, dead but perfectly preserved, lying on a stone slab in the bottom level of a series of caverns. Gathered in her hands upon her breast was a rose -- carved so extraordinarily from white stone that it seemed bedewed. Before the Dwarves could do more than observe this in wonder, however, several biters appeared, driving them back through their tunnels. To make matters worse, the lower portion of the tunnels collapsed, burying the biters and the rose-bearing maiden. The tale was set at once in stone over the entrance to that series of tunnels, which were ever- afterwards known as The Rose Maiden's Caverns.

In 1513 B.L., nearly six centuries after the discovery -- and collapse -- of The Rose Maiden's Caverns, a native of Kworlog named Cordhvirae Stonesekker began having compelling dreams in which the Maiden conjured prophetic visions and whispered eternal truths. Cordhvirae vowed to remain celibate and dedicated to universal service. As others joined her cause, the "Cult of the Rose Maiden" was born. Later visions exhorted Cordhvirae to spread the doctrines of renunciation, celibacy and service. As of 1451 B.L., the cult had fourteen followers, ten female and four male. Three maidens and a youth set out alone to the Siergelde Mountains. They were never heard from again.

In 1374 B.L., Cordhvirae had fourty-five followers. The Priests of Kertigen tried to engage her in amicable debate, but she replied simply by restating the words of her visions. In 1327 B.L., Cordhvirae and her followers were forbidden to proselytize by Kworlog's Council of Elders. She bowed to their will and announced her third vision: that all Dwarves must abandon the mountains, or they would be destroyed by the World Dragon. More than 200 years after her first visions, Cordhvirae died during a prolonged fast in 1301 B.L. Legend says that the Cult of the Rose Maiden gained no new adherents after Cordhvirae's death and continued to operate quietly until its members died out, one by one. However, history has proven that they did not all die without gaining new followers and leaving a legacy.

-* Chapter Three: Island Development *-

For a millennium, groups of Humans, Elves, Elotheans and Gor'Togs had used the island of Ain Ghazal for shelter and concealment. In 1432 B.L., the Gor'Togs requested general settlement rights from the Dwarves, specifically for those areas the Dwarves found less than desirable. The Gor'Togs promised to guard any approaches into Dwarven territory if settlement rights were granted. The island, being so far removed from their main city, certainly fell into the category of undesirable to the Dwarves. The Gor'Togs settled in and began working on a limestone quarry while doing a bit of terrace-farming. The Sisters happily hired the island Gor'Togs as thugs and enforcers when trade agreements with outsiders went awry.

The interdependence between the Sisters and the island Gor'Togs grew deeper as the women spent more time on the island. Familiar with varieties of grapes that thrive in cool temperatures and high elevation, the Sisters taught the Gor'Togs advanced terrace-farming techniques and planted a number of vineyards. They also hired Gor'Togs under cover of the quarry operation to build a tunnel system through the limestone deep below the island. With Ain Ghazal being a relatively convenient point between Forfedhdar, Zoluren and Ilithi as well as an important trade link, the Sisters decided to make a bid to hold the location, biding their time until they felt the Dwarves were receptive to such an idea. With the end of the Seven Star Empire in 240 B.L., the Sisterhood finally came forward with their own request, accompanied by an agreement to assist in guarding the river access and any nearby roads leading to Hibarnhvidar. They arranged outright purchase of all structures on the island as well as expansion and improvement rights. The island itself was leased from the Dwarves, who would never willingly fully relinquish such a property.

-* Chapter Four: Ultimate Progress *-

Upon acquiring effective control of the island, the Sisters welcomed females from all races and commenced serious building, presenting themselves as a community loosely based on spiritual principles and practice. They eventually ended up with a chateau and outbuildings, the whole of which houses their order as well as serving as a way station for travelers. They are known for providing elegant accommodations and for the potent amber wine they serve, produced onsite from their own vineyards and stored in the cool limestone caverns.

The Sisters elected one of their own to be their "Spirit Leader." Despite the fact that the initial group of Sisters was comprised entirely of Dwarves, they chose the Gamgweth "Lyba Khalo" as the title of their leader. They yearned to be free from their Dwarven roots, as that culture had consistently rejected them and had forbidden them from proselytizing. Similarly, the Sisters renounced the male-oriented Synod of Kertigen that worships the All-Father by calling their own council a synod.

-* Chapter Five: Present Day *-

In 384 A.V., after many long years of seclusion, the Sisters of Ain Ghazal and Dwarves of Forfedhdar opened their borders to the rest of the realms. A skiff service was established between the island and Ilaya Taipa to facilitate access across the Segoltha. Ferries also provide transportation to the Dwarven capital of Hibarnhvidar via the dock at the end of the Haalikshal Highway. Few visitors likely realize that these same water routes were used by the Gor'Togs over two millennia ago.

As described previously, visitors to the island will find the chateau is built directly into the immense limestone promontory, with vineyards surrounding the entire edifice. Its structure is designed to strengthen and secure, being lightly fortified, while maintaining aesthetic beauty and good taste. The island itself is surrounded on all sides by the fast-flowing, deep Segoltha River. Security guards known as "adepts" staff the turrets as well as the small gatehouse and iron gates. A long, spiraling road leads up to the chateau along the island's natural defensive structures: steep slopes, sheer cliffs, perpendicular escarpments and over- whelming precipices. In addition, all of the manmade bulwarks appear to have been designed in accordance with the topography of the island. The most stunning feature is the chateau's set of massive, foot-thick glaes exterior doors at the portico entrance. They are nearly twice as strong as steel and three times as heavy, with two huge bolts that slide into place to lock the doors.

The chateau itself gives the impression of subdued elegance. While the Sisters are fabulously wealthy, they do not care to advertise their affluence. Nothing is gaudy or ostentatious, but nothing is cheap or stingy either. Everything is obviously well-maintained, and wherever the eye rests, one sees beauty and grace. Through general public access is somewhat limited, several areas are open to visitors. Facilities include a banquet room, a library, a meditation garden, a council chamber with audience seating, meeting rooms, a bell tower with carillon, kitchens, dining halls and dormitories. The chateau has an extensive lighting system, due to its underground state. In some places, the limestone walls are decoratively carved, but the stone is chilly and lacking in aesthetic value. There are many tapestries and curtains to soften the look and feel of the chambers carved from solid rock. The doors to the synod chamber are truly a marvel of the lifesculpting craft, considered a hobby by the Sisters.

Additional services are provided as well for visitors in the auberge. The River Fisher remains one of the realms' best restaurants and offers a fine selection of food and drink for the discerning palate. To complement the exquisite guest accommodations, a set of mineral baths serves to relax tired muscles and clear the mind. Inner Beauty sells decorative facial colorings and powders for the ladies, while Estate Holders are treated to banking and gem-selling services. At the time of publication, it is known that further amenities will be opened in the future despite not being available to the public currently.

-* Conclusion *-

The tale of Ain Ghazal speaks of cooperation between the races and commitment to ideals that should inspire future generations. Standing tall upon its rocky home, the Sisters' chateau reminds all who pass through the gateway to Forfedhdar just how crucial the island and its residents are not only to the bordering provinces, but to the world.