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The Chronicles of the Five Kingdoms
English edition curated by
Italian text originally published:
I Guerrieri D’Argento
Gribaudi Editore (Milan, 2016)
Rights to the English editions
of The Chronicles of the Five Kingdoms
are exclusive property of the author.
This book is not to be reproduced or otherwise circulated
without the author’s prior consent.
To my daughter Sara:
May this story
bring the same magic to her children’s
evenings as it did to hers.
Map of the Lands of Arishtar
Table of Measurements
I Elamar’s Choice
II To the Timeless Forest
III Meeting Gotland
IV Gotland’s Gift Revealed
V Dragon Tears
VI Winds of Misfortune
VII Forces of Evil
VIII Erim’s Choice
IX The Illumination Spell
X The Audacity of the Manlings
XI The Victory Tactic
Measurements of time and distance referenced in the Chronicles
are unique to the Lands of Arishtar, although some may be similar
to measurements we use today.
1 League………3 Miles
1 Length……… Approximately 60 feet
1 Fathom…….. 6 feet
1 Span…..…… Maximum distance between thumb and little finger
(approximately 6 inches)
1 Palm…..…… Width of human palm as a measure
(approximately 4 inches)
1 Cycle……………….. 2 Hours
1 Time…………………10 Eras
1 Era…………………. 50 years
In the Eighth Era in the Time of Ulum, before the battle of Lemor and prior to both the Great Flood and the Gathering, times were peaceful in the Lands of Arishtar.
Arkadon reigned upon the land of the sacred Mount Umar. Challenging and formidable, the mount’s peak was invisible to the naked eye, its cliffs were inaccessible, and a heavy fog formed an impenetrably thick ring around its circumference.
Lightning and thunder arose from out of that thick mist, making a mere approach out of the question. Neither detour, nor tunnel, nor side street existed to assist a traveler in reaching the top, apart from the main road. White, polished stones from the Simpur mines paved that road, which climbed and slithered, snakelike, up the western side of the mountain, leading to the gates of Kardon, sacred city of the Immortals.
Those gates, ancient as Time itself, were built of ondrium wood, a material today forgotten, and yet sturdier than any existing metal. The wood was carved by the Kardonian axe, and adorned thus with images of the ancient gods, in order to forewarn travelers who managed to arrive so far. An eery, mystic aura permeated the atmosphere there. Beyond the gate, a seemingly infinite staircase ascended to the Immortal City (according to the Book of Iljia, Chapter 1 of the First Age), and, upon arrival, the spectacle left anyone breathless.
At the entrance to the city stood two great pillars, built of marble blocks and linked together by a central arc. The marble was covered in symbols from an incomprehensible language, which only the Book of Iljia could decipher.
Seven white towers, arranged in a semi-circle, surrounded the city’s main plaza. There were no doors at the base of the towers—only a single, narrow staircase, lacking railings and consisting of hovering steps, upheld to the towers at just one end. Each staircase thus revolved about its respective tower, reaching the top, where a small opening could be discerned. The towers’ roofs were so pointed as to appear like needles, thrusting towards the sky.
The main plaza itself was round and, in its center, a pit in the ground radiated a marvelous light, white as ice and yet, simultaneously, warm and reassuring.
Westward, Parliament dominated the horizon. It was an austere, hexagonal-shaped palace, completely lacking in windows and yet crowned by a crystal dome which filtered sunlight to its interior. With the sun at its zenith, a display of enchanting colors radiated upon the palace floor.
Eastward bound, a maze of houses and endless paths swarming with villagers faded into the distance, sprawling to surround the seven towers, as well as Parliament. At dawn and at dusk, when sunbeams pierced the towers, the combined architecture seemed to cast the image of the Silver Dragon of Prikiar upon the sky.
The legend of the seven kings who ruled the city was as ancient as Time itself. Those fabulous Lands were saturate with legends and tales, passed down from generation to generation into each and every corner of the world.
The sprawling land at the foot of the sacred mountain was harsh and sparsely vegetated, characterized by enormous, jagged rocks over six fathoms tall, yet flat-topped. This made for a rocky Highlands, seemingly polished by magic. Few tribes of the Goljis, a once nomadic population who had settled in those territories following the Great Drought, had managed to survive in such deplorable conditions, juicing the caves carved from the rock and gorges from which ran a current of freshwater, discovered by chance as they’d scouted out the territory.
No one in the nearby Lands knew of the river’s existence, and its secret was kept religiously by a pact, sworn to by each tribe of the Highlands. The stream’s vapors nourished and stimulated the growth of a variety of plants, boasting velvety leaves and purple flowers,which bloomed even in darkness. Such plants were used to prepare herbal teas and healing concoctions which worked miracles upon even the gravest of maladies.
Two leagues south tumbled the green Slopes, a bizarre landscape lacking completely in plains, instead characterized by incessant slopes shifting every which way. A handful of paths established with astonishing precision formed a pattern up and down, allowing travelers to cross the region. A single rule was imperative in the construction of such path: never could it cross a slope at center, which would damage the entire slope’s vegetation. This rule made for a trek treacherous for any traveller.
The Slopes were covered in longleaf, a local plant growing fairly low to the ground and reaching at most the height of two spans, yet boasting robust leaves up to two fathoms long. The plant was used for building huts, roofs, and a certain very large umbrella, which was quite useful in the rainy season. Naturally, such constructions were erected far from the Slopes: the village of the Celds lay upon the plantation’s western border, where the plains began. It consisted of approximately fifty identical, single-story houses, with peaked roofs, a single window per wall, and a double door with a hole in its center. The houses were built with impressive skill using mere mud and longleaf, and thus appeared both robust and refined. The walls were polished and enhanced by such leafy composition, making for a calming, greenish color. The furniture within was built of folca wood, making for a warm and homey ambiance, which was not particularly elegant, yet was durable and distinctly artisanal.
The Celds were remarkably skilled and ambitious tradespeople, expert in the creation of exceptional contraptions and machinery. They sold longleaf in markets and fairs across the Lands. Once a year, the villagers loaded their wagons and travelled to the far region of Perjas, at the extreme northern end of the known territory, where all the most capable of artisans gathered. A number of Goljis arrived as well, with their handmade pots in a variety of sizes, filled with their precious dried herbs.
East of the Slopes spread the Timeless Forest, dense with centuries-old trees spanning taller than fifty fathoms. Such thick vegetation made a clear view of the area utterly impossible. Sunlight filtered through the branches, its rays like blades, slashing the forest. According to legend, a tribe possessing mystic powers lived amidst the forest’s depths, although never had Celd nor Goljis ever glimpsed life in the brush.
Each year counted four harvests of longleaf, playing out each time as religious event. Preparation was meticulous, and each tribal member was assigned a specific task: some cared for harvest machinery, others lifted the leaves before cutting, and still others prepared for the drying process and storage. Storage workers unloaded the wagons and put the crops into huts with immaculate precision. Leaves were placed at the inner chamber of a wheel, which was activated by a counterbalance and spun at high speed: the rapid spinning extracted the humidity withheld in the leaves’ pores, drying them instantly. To avoid decomposition of the still-green leaves, they were put upon extractable shelves, allowing for proper aeration and thereby healthy aging. The plant’s elasticity was remarkable: even when dried, it maintained a stunning softness, allowing for an endless variety of uses, and lasting for quite a long time.
In the Eighth Era of Ulum, on the third day of the second harvest, the sky turned black. A powerful wind erupted, scattering the crops upon the Slopes. Frightened, the Celds sought to save as many as they could. None of them had ever witnessed such a climatic phenomenon. Although their greatest concern regarded the crops, anxiety and dismay took root within the Celds’ hearts…
What occurred thereafter leads to the telling of the following fantastic tale, hereby born, and to the unveiling of a world ruled by mysterious and archaic powers. In it, many individuals play a dominant role, setting memorable example with their demonstrations of grit and courage, and becoming role models for generations to come.
The sudden torrent of violent wind terrified the Immortals, who watched from the sacred city: the situation was anything but calm. A dark shadow appeared in the sky and, as the Celds rushed to withhold their scattered crops, the mysterious form solidified, hovering above the Slopes.
Oblivious to the impending danger, but threatened by the ominous winds, the Celds took refuge behind their overturned wagons. The sky continued to darken, crops sprawled every which way and, desperately, the unfortunate farmers sought to retreat towards their huts. Suddenly, as they ran towards the village, a flash, followed by a whirlwind, left them petrified.
King Arkadon appeared amidst that whirlwind, his austere and majestic figure illuminated and thus standing out from the surrounding darkness. Immobile he stood, head bowed, eyes closed, his hands upon his staff bold in the ground, and Time seemed to stand still. Then, squinting, his head still lowered, he uttered a chant in deep tone, and in a language unknown to the Celds:
“Al beny de nai ismail rumai ne dicta brand ish chair ni mei
ablics maira nu qium stair
pliun crev niu marn’fad kynh runai ish chair ni mei
ablics maira nu qium stair…”
Immediately, the vicious winds condensed into a single tornado, whirling clockwise. Arkadon spread his arms, lifted his gaze to the sky, and the wind exploded upwards, creating a vault in the darkness and dispersing the clouds. The darkness then gradually vanished, thus restoring the serene daylight. Astonishment and curiosity replaced the people’s fear as their own gazes turning skywards, watching the miraculous events.
Nayla, daughter of the Celdic leader, stood, entranced by the stern and commanding figure who had come to their rescue. Things then returned to normal, and the King disappeared, leaving no trace of the occurrence, save a hole in the ground where his staff had stood.
“Come quick—take a look!” Nayla exclaimed. “The soil is burned, just where that man was standing.”
“What a shame! Surely, nothing’ll grow here anymore!” complained an annoyed Olef, an elder of the group, who yet did not register the seriousness of what had occurred.
A subdued murmur grew amidst the crowd, as all gathered about to witness the scorch and hole in the ground.
“Who was that man? What’s happening? Is it possible that no one here knows him?” Nayla asked, raising her voice.
“I know him!” answered a Goljisan boy, with skin amber from the sun and raven-black hair, approaching the gathering with fast and firm step. Rarely did the Celdic and Goljisan tribes meet, save in the market at Perjias. Although not hostile to one another, intermingling between the two tribes was kept to a minimum, each preferring to remain on his own territory.
Consequently, Nayla demanded of the stranger:
“Who are you, and what are you doing on our territory?” Despite the sparkling curiosity tormenting her from within, her tone remained cold, her pride hardly accepting the fact that a Goljisan boy could know more about the mysterious man than she, daughter of the Celdic leader.
“I am Elamar of the Highlands, and the land belongs to who walks it, miss.”
Repressing her desire to respond tartly, Nayla instead opted to humor the newcomer, and thus find out what he knew about the mysterious apparition.
“Alrighty then: let’s speak in the village. Might you explain the meaning of such strange events!”
The majority of the Celds remained in the countryside to straighten up the wagons and recuperate their crops, as Elamar and Nayla, followed by a number of curious youngsters, made their way to the village, leaving the valley of the Slopes by way of the usual, winding path.
Reaching the main square, the youngsters sat in a circle, as was custom on evenings of storytelling around the bonfire. Elamar and Nayla sat in the center of the circle, and the boy began by telling of the events that had led him to the Celdic village:
“It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and I was hunting a Drill, which is a sort of big, wild rabbit that lives in my area. Suddenly, I noticed the Drill reach a crack in the rocks, but, before it could disappear, I took my sling and, from three lengths’ distance, struck him in the back of the head.”
“Nobody can strike a Drill from three lengths’ distance!” Nayla interrupted, incredulous.
Elamar said nothing. He looked around, selected a stone the size of a walnut, and, standing up, placed it in his sling. Indicating a hat hanging atop a fence on the other side of the village and so at roughly six lengths’ distance (equalling over sixty steps of a grown man), he began spinning his sling so fast that it became invisible. After a few sparse seconds, he launched the stone, and the hat was struck cold to the ground.
Elamar sat composed, with an air at once of normalcy and satisfaction, ready to continue with his story. But the astonished gaze of the Celds remained fixed upon the hat at ground, their jaws dropped, speechless—Nayla included. Having proven his point, Elamar proceeded:
“I went to get the Drill, and noticed a sparkle coming from the crack where it had been about to hide. Curious, I decided to widen the hole and climb inside. Using a spiked pole, I crumbled the surrounding rocks, and, after two rounds, had broken the earth substantially. I shimmied inside, and found myself within a large cave. I wasn’t too surprised, as it’s normal to find such caves amidst the Highlands, so I went on with my exploration. But, the further I advanced, the more I realized it to be the largest, deepest I’d ever encountered. The floor was smooth and polished, just like the Highlands’ surface, and a number of vague cracks in the ceiling, from which filtered sunlight, permitted my investigating the rest of its depths.”
The Celds were utterly absorbed in the boy’s tale, and, as he continued, others joined the circle, having completed gathering the dispersed crops.
“As I was saying, I kept on walking, my sling in hand. After a while, I found myself at a dead end: I was blocked by a big wooden door, in the center of which was carved a foreign inscription—four brief words, in an alphabet I’d never seen before.
“For some moments I stood there, my gaze fixed upon the incision. I don’t know why, but it was all somehow familiar. In fact, in my mind, they translated from pointless carvings into melodic words. I pronounced those four words, barely realizing I did so, and the door opened, pouring forth an unbelievably intense light.
“As I advanced, entranced by the brightness, I witnessed a man standing amidst the path. With a calm and clear voice, he asked me to come closer, and to not be afraid. In fact, I wasn’t afraid: I am acquainted with danger, and detected no cruel intention from him.
“I noted he held an amber-colored bracelet, turning it over and over in his palm. He introduced himself as Arkadon, King of the Immortals. He said he wished to give me Ephir’s Bracelet, which few had worn, saying I could become one of its wearers. He said Destiny had led me to that magical place, shortly before the bracelet’s apparition, but that the choice was up to me of whether or nor to accept. The King warned that the fate of many depended upon my decision, and that I was to think carefully before making a choice.”
The name Arkadon spread upon the mouths of the Celds, who sat all-ears, listening to Elamar’s story. Tales of the King of the Immortals were legendary, dating back to the Dark Ages, when the seven kings defeated the Dark Forces of Merja Norim. Unfazed by their comments, Elamar proceeded, narrating with great enthusiasm and utterly entrancing his audience:
“A shiver ran literally down my spine: naturally, I hesitated. Arkadon didn’t move, but his gaze was fixed upon me, and his arm was outstretched towards me, with the bracelet in the palm of his hand. He told me the bracelet’s powers wouldn’t harm me, as they serve only those worthy of wearing it.
“I thought, never have the Immortals made themselves visible to us, least of all their King, so what could he possibly want from me? To tell the truth, a thousand similar thoughts ran through my mind, and Arkadon continued to glare at me, as if reading them like an open book. Finally, I gathered up my courage and stepped towards him, reaching out my hand and grasping the bracelet, which seemed to glow brighter and brighter.
“Arkadon persisted, telling me that I’d deciphered the ancient symbols upon the door and pronounced the names of the four elements ruling the balance of the our planet: Light, Earth, Air, and Fire. This hadn’t occurred for ages, and he insisted that Ephir’s Bracelet had chosen me. Still, I had my doubts…" Elamar admitted.
“Then what did you do?” asked a curious boy.
“I couldn’t think straight, so I decided to hush my mind and follow my instinct. A mysterious and very strong force drew me to the bracelet, even if, at a glance, it appeared to be nothing special. After a brief moment of indecision, I snatched it from Arkadon’s palm, and put it on. Immediately, it adapted to the shape of my wrist and became light as a feather, emitting a bright flash, then returning pale as before.”
Elamar described the small smile of satisfaction which pursed Arkadon’s lips. The King explained that, in that same place, until not long before, the Book of Iljia had been kept, resting upon a large wooden pulpit in the depths of the cave. Both the Book and the entrance to the cave had been protected by the Vanishing spell. The King had then joined his hands behind his back, and approached Elamar with a grave frown.
“Did they steal the Book?” asked the village leader.
“Yes!” Elamar replied, with a serious air.
The boy had asked himself what sort of force could have overcome such magical defense—what darkness and Evil could possibly challenge such power? Evidently, the future of the Lands of Arishtar was in great danger.
“The King said that the sacred Book contained the wisdom of the Immortals: should it fall into the wrong hands, disaster would ensue. Endless questions stormed through my mind, but remained unanswered. Still, the power of the bracelet emanated a sort of invincibility.”
“So, how did you respond?” Nayla probed.
“‘I am at your disposal: thunder and lightning will be slower than me, and my feet shall run like the wind!’
“Arkadon, his gaze steadfast upon me and with a serious tone, told me to reach the valley of the Slopes, and that, once arrived, Ephir’s Bracelet would show me the way. As I ran, faster than lightning, I could hear the King proclaiming, ‘Destiny has been fulfilled: you will need assistance in facing the terrible trials that await you.’
“And so, finally… here I am! I ran for six cycles without stopping, and arrived just as Arkadon vanished.”
“You mean to say you arrived from the Highlands in just six cycles?” Nayla asked, appalled.
“Indeed! I told you I was fast. Didn’t I mention that I’m the fastest boy in all the Lands? In the city of Perjas, during this year’s market, I won the Red Mounds Challenge!” Elamar bragged.
The Red Mounds Challenge was a speed race, in which all boys of the known Lands took part. It was a famed and prestigious event, and the winner was given room and board for all the duration of the market, a short sword (roughly two palms’ length), and a sling, handmade by the best Perjasan knitter. These were the weapons that Elamar always kept on him, carrying them with pride. The challenge was epic, lasting give-or-take eight cycles and running a course covered totally in mounds of red sand, brought by winds from the Aral Desert. During the race, a sole flask of water was permitted per athlete, and just three bandages to dress any wounds acquired along the way. The track took on a winding, snake-like shape, and amounted to one hundred and fifteen laps. Most incredibly, Elamar told to have won the race with a full cycle’s lead upon the second-placer, establishing an all-time record for the challenge.
Nayla, after having listened carefully to the story, watched Elamar closely. She regretted to admit that his honest gaze and that mischievous grin tugged affectionately at her heart. She took his hand and lifted his sleeve, and the bracelet revealed itself, illuminating once more. Dropping his hand, she said with worried tone, “What does that shining effect mean?”
“I don’t know. I am still unacquainted with its powers. Arkadon said it would show me the way, but I have no idea what that means.”
“Can I touch it?”
“I don’t see why not! I don’t think it’s dangerous.”
Nayla brought her hand toward Ephir’s Bracelet, which immediately brightened, and, as soon as she touched it, her fingers seemed to stick to it. The shining became blinding and slowly enveloped her arm, reaching the shoulder. The girl could no longer speak, as if she’d been stunned: her jaws spread as if crying out, but her open mouth emitted no sound, and her eyes were wide open, silently screaming for help. Elamar, petrified, stared upon Nayla, and he, too, was unable to move. Just as the light enveloped Nayla’s entire body, her father Raji, leader of the Celds, appeared. He sought desperately to detach his daughter from Elamar and the bracelet by tugging, but the two seemed united by a strange force. After a moment, Nayla fainted to the ground.
Raji threatened imperiously, “Boy, you make my daughter well again, or you will never again see the light of day!”
“But I didn’t do anything—it was the bracelet! I do not understand it’s powers—I was told it’s harmless!” cried a visibly wrought Elamar.
“Lock the boy up!” Raji shouted.
At that very moment, Nayla blinked. “No, please—leave him alone!” she whispered. “Father, I’m fine. The Immortals have shown me the way, and I must go with Elamar! We must go east, towards the Timeless Forest.”
“Do not speak, my daughter—you must rest and recover,” her father responded anxiously.
With difficulty, she stood. The light enveloping her had disappeared, but left a strange glimmer in her eyes. She took three steps, nervously gripping Elamar’s hand, then fell again to the ground, unconscious.
Raji took his daughter in his arms and brought her home, followed by Elamar. The Celds gathered round their leader’s house, worried about the health of their friend, Nayla.
That day would be topic of conversation amongst the villagers for ages to come, its events retold in extreme detail, embellishing each point and passing it on from father to son.
Nayla remained unconscious for two days. On the third day, at dawn, she opened her eyes, feeling that a change had taken place: Ephir’s Bracelet had transmitted its energy to her and, restored by its force, she was feeling better than ever. Elamar had not once left her side: at night, he slept on a bed of leaves outside the house; daytime, he sat besides her, worrying and clutching her hand, as the spartan gaze of Nayla’s father followed him relentlessly. Although Raji acknowledged the boy’s good intentions, he still did not trust the boy completely.