I have come into the possession of a most extraordinary object, which I procured rather fortuitously before the auction of goods from an insolvent boutique on the East Boulevard. I do not know how long it lay, disused and uncared-for, in a dusty drawer at that establishment, or when the boutique acquired it. The artifact in question is a curious map of the southern continent. I have scrutinized the place names and cross-referenced the markers corresponding to cities and towns with the atlases and charts in the City Library, and I have determined that this map dates from approximately 530 A.E. It covers the area from the North Barovin Mountains in its upper-left extremity, to historic Vorsvenbal in the south and all of South Brenin, Kalatchal, and part of Olahira to the east.
The famous dòm Gurand Map of our southern continent does not only provide interesting historical and societal context, but contains some surprisingly accurate geographic information. One can examine the map for geological purposes, for evidence of historical wind patterns, and for characteristics of the climate of the year 530. Drainage areas of rivers are readily apparent, for instance, and the cartographer has captured some of the different qualities in the mountain ranges.
In his legend, the cartographer Ferin dòm Gurand clearly betrays his prejudices: he specifies only the three post-Imperial Nations by name. In fact, dòm Gurand’s title suggests, by placing Aurinon, Ereval, and South Brenin all on equal footing, that the cartographer hails from one of the many city-states of South Brenin (which, of course, had been defunct as a cohesive Nation for over one hundred sixty years at the time this map was drawn). The cartographer’s surname also traces him to South Brenin, perhaps Coseine or Rom Upale, which are labeled as cities despite their small populations in 530; I think likely this map was commissioned by the feudal lord of one of those city-states and dòm Gurand sought to please.
For example, the representation of the Pitchkalen Mountain range is as a series of fairly regular conical shapes, indicative of the volcanic origin of those mountains which mark the eastern subduction zone. Contrast these with the Barovin Mountain chain in the west, which have much more sculpted and varied shapes. While the symbols of the Barovin range on this map do not have a clean correspondence with the eroded ridges left over from the continental collision and Barovin orogeny, dòm Gurand clearly apprehended the distinct character of these features.
It is curious, in a way, that dòm Gurand did not embellish South Brenin more than he did; however, one must remember that the Brenin countryside was politically volatile throughout the period from 370-840 A.E. Following the Fall of the Empire, this peninsula almost immediately fractured into independent city-states, while the former Imperial provinces of Aurinon and Ereval maintained their national identities. The great Imperial cities of Stonevale, Hollam Lake, and Dowill of course became the most powerful domains, but either a lack of ambition on the part of their leaders or the consequences of infighting and territorial squabbling prevented any of these from expanding beyond their feudal locales until 640 when the Four Nations period began in South Brenin. Smaller communities, several of which are marked on this map, rose and fell, rose and fell. Only the larger cities and the colonial holdings and fortresses of Aurinon (to wit: Farsoth and Empala) remained stable before 640.
The lush character of the central latitude band is due to the prevailing westward winds, which carry moisture from the Helonas Ocean over the lowlands of South Brenin and then, after picking up more humidity from Serinale, into Aurinon and Ereval. The Brenin countryside consists mainly of low-lying grasslands, interspersed with deciduous forests, with winding rivers draining rainfall to both sides of the peninsula. Even in dòm Gurand’s time, Brenin was fertile farmland (excepting the colder climes of the bogs at its southern extremity).
The winds coming over the generally flat terrain of South Brenin then encounter the hilly terrain of eastern Aurinon, and, rising with the land, they begin to rain out. This precipitation feeds the verdant Westwood. The combination of varied terrain (the product of deformational and metamorphic processes) and fortuitous location with respect to seas blessed Aurinon with great natural resources that were easily accessible even in 530. Frequently, the prevailing wind veers northward over the Serinale Sea to rain out in the Arrith Valley. The remainder of the land, southwest to the barrier of the Barovin Mountains, is the vast, grassy plain of Ereval. Grazing livestock and wild grains have been present in Ereval for most of recorded history.
We come now to dòm Gurand’s treatment of Aurinon, the nation that best weathered the Fall of the Empire. Indeed, in 530 A.E. the kings and queens of Aurinon would have had their subjects believe that the Empire simply continued under different rule. The timber-rich Westwood supplied Aurin navies; the fertile farmland along the Serinale coast, bay of Aneda, and Idenford fed the Aurin people, minerals in the central mountains and the spur of the Barovins provided vital metals, and the strategic location of the country allowed easy trade with other nations while remaining defensible. After the Fall of the Empire, Aurinon enjoyed a relatively warm relationship with Ereval, save the incidents leading to the annexation of Arrith Valley and the Battle at the Cressit Stone, and it largely lacked interest in Oghura except as an occasional trading partner. Generations of kings in Aurin, the former seat of the Imperial House, dreamed of restoring Imperial glory and engaged in campaigns in South Brenin.
I am quite surprised, in fact, at the level of detail this map exhibits in the desert land of Oghura, as it reveals that either dòm Gurand was in fact very well traveled or he had access to substantial resources with a great deal of accumulated knowledge. If he had contact with the Oghuran archivists, it is likely that they could have provided him with much of this information. Still, I suspect that the location of the desert stronghold Rukhas is but speculation, and the locations (or even existence) of all the indicated oases in 530 were undoubtedly uncertain.
Before the era of recorded history on this continent, lush jungles and forests spanned the plains between the North Barovin Mountains and the Pitchkalen Mountains. The early Kalatchali civilization was widespread throughout this area. However, a combination of factors changed the climate dramatically over a period of a mere several thousand years: the southward shift of the jetstream, the final drying of equatorial seas to the north, and the buildup of the active Pitchkalen volcanic range, all contributed to depriving what would become the Oghuran desert of surface water. Naturally, these phenomena had been ongoing for thousands or millions of years; the contributing factors simply passed the tipping point within the lifetime of the Kalatchali civilization. The great forests withered and died.
If you can get them to sit with you long enough to tell tales, the Kalatchalis wax poetic about one subject in particular: the halcyon days when their forest domain stretched from the edge of the seas to the backbone of the continent, the majestic Barovin Mountains. Nowadays this claim seems hard to believe, but nonetheless there exists substantial evidence. Natural historians have even determined that certain species of tree in the Westwood or Arrith Valley forests bear striking resemblances to Kalatchali jungle woods. Why the great forests should have disintegrated and become desert we do not yet know – but this is clearly one of the major sources of historical strife between Kalatchal and Oghura. (Indeed, some would say a preserved Kalatchali sense of loss is the source of that conflict.) This great shift in the land affected even the Empire, evidently: the outpost of Biran Tol marked the border of the desert in the early days of the Empire. By 530 A.E. it was a ruin.
Now, the entire plain in the rain shadow of the Pitchkalen appears at first glance to be a parched land. The highlands to the northwest do possess a substantial water reserve, however, and the bedrock underlying the Oghuran desert is quite porous. Water drains towards the Serinale in underground rivers, or seeps through the bedrock from the mountains to the desert plain. The most dramatic and long-lived example of these features is the Sugra oasis, which is fed by a large spring sources at Asoka and falls into the Ura River. Much smaller springs can appear unpredictably throughout the desert, and disappear as drainage finds new underground courses, resulting in the famous shifting oases of Oghura.
Kalatchal itself is a humid, vegetation-choked land of plains and foothills between the ocean and the Pitchkalen Mountains. Several dendritic river systems drain precipitation away to a vast bay. Here, the dòm Gurand map was in fact substantially inaccurate: river courses match artistic impression more than anything else, and only two topographic features are noted. The boundaries of the rain forest are reasonable, and the Pitchkalen range is clearly composed of (active) andesitic volcanoes, but beyond this we cannot draw conclusions.
dòm Gurand never visited xenophobic Kalatchal, that much is evident. I certainly never would have, living in 530, and I cannot fault him for this – he would have likely been killed outright once identified within Kalatchali borders. Still, he records the existence, at least, of the three known Kalatchali settlements, and he marks the legendary hilltop temples of sacrifice to the Kalatchali gods. These few markers are deceptive: the Tiliprrek living in these jungles spread throughout the trees, and did not always congregate in cities as men do. The population of Kalatchal in 530 was likely comparable to that of Aurinon. In geographic terms, though, the splinter Tiliprrek realm at the end of the South Brenin peninsula is likely better recorded on this map.
Other nations and locales (Olahira, Tung Gras, and Vorsvenbal among them) are faithfully represented. Certainly Olahiran navigators possessed charts that could be purchased in one of the trading cities for accurate representations of these coastlines, saving our cartographer from a dangerous trek into the rugged lands of the Vorsven raiders or from trespassing on the Fire Islands. On the whole, I am impressed. This is by far the most complete map of the southern continent I have seen dating from earlier than 760 A.E.