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Some Background Information About Ethshar:


If the material here isn't enough to satisfy you, some of my readers have created the Misenchanted Wiki, compiling a huge amount of information about Ethshar. Most of it is even accurate, and when I see something there that isn't I usually (not always) correct it.


Clothing:

Children under age twelve wear simple knee-length T-cut tunics--sleeve length depends on climate, but they're generally loose garments, unconfining. No pockets; anything to be carried is hung on one's belt. Adult garments sometimes have pockets, but children's clothes don't, apparently on the theory that they make it too easy to hide stuff the kid shouldn't have.

At age twelve, a boy starts wearing breeches and stops lengthening the tunic as he grows; by adulthood, men's tunics are therefore typically hip-length, though someone who hit a really major adolescent growth-spurt after age twelve might wear his only to the waist or so.

Men wear either breeches or a kilt; a kilt is considered a sign of virility, and is standard garb for soldiers, sailers, and bridegrooms. A boy under age eighteen who wears a kilt without being one of those three is bragging, and will be teased for it. Kilts are generally solid colors, rather than plaids; soldiers wear red, sailors wear blue, and other men whatever they please.

Women start wearing skirts either at age twelve or after their first period -- family custom as to which. Skirts are ankle-length. As with men, the tunic stays the same length it was at age twelve, which means it comes to the upper or middle thigh, generally; it's worn over the skirt, never tucked into the waistband.

None of these rules apply to the nobility, the very wealthy, magicians, or people dressing up for special occasions; in all those cases, fashions change constantly and just about anything goes. Gowns, robes, dresses, and blouses are common.


Ages:

Ethsharites think in six-year blocks. Under age six is an infant, of whom nothing much is expected; six to twelve is a child, who ought to learn reading, writing, and manners, but still isn't entirely responsible. Twelve to eighteen is an apprentice, the years when a person should be learning a trade or otherwise preparing for adulthood. Eighteen to twenty-four is a journeyman, when a person should be finding a spouse, settling down, establishing himself in his business, etc. Twenty-four to thirty is a distinct stage I don't have a name for, as there's no equivalent in English, when a person is established but not yet a master, a parent raising young children. And over thirty is a full adult.

The exception to all this... well, there are several, actually; some trades compress apprenticeship to three years, others extend it to nine. The major exception, though, is that the city guards of all three Ethshars take recruits of sixteen or older. Some traditionalists consider this perverse; actually, it's a matter of practicality. Men younger than that don't have their full growth; even if they're already large, you'll have to keep re-outfitting them. And without this safety valve, you wind up with rowdy, bored young males of sixteen and seventeen who either never apprenticed or were thrown out raising hell in the streets. Better to put 'em to use in the guard.


Cosmology:

The World is called the World. It's a proper name. It's not very distinctive, but Ethsharitic cosmology only admits to the existence of three places -- the World, Heaven, and the Nethervoid -- so they don't need distinctive names. (Stars are believed to be holes in the floor of Heaven, where the light of the gods shines through. The Nethervoid, also called Hell, is assumed to lie somewhere beneath the World.)

(You may have noticed that Ethshar's a bit weird about names -- using the same name for three major cities, for example. This is just more of the same. It's a cultural thing.)

The Hegemony of the Three Ethshars is the largest nation in the World, with a little over half the World's human population.

The moons are called the greater moon and the lesser moon, or sometimes referred to by their colors, orange and pink; the third moon that's sometimes mentioned is a legend, and if it ever existed it's long gone.


Time:

The months are, in order, Rains, Greengrowth, Longdays, Summerheat, Summersend, Harvest, Leafcolor, Newfrost, Snowfall, Midwinter, Icebound, and Thaw; each is thirty days long. There's a festival (called Festival) between years, lasting five or six days -- or once, when the calendar got a bit off, seven. Festival starts on the vernal equinox, i.e., March 20th, so you can figure from there. The names of the months apparently originated somewhere slightly farther north than most Ethsharites live; also, the length of day varies less than in North America, so even at the winter solstice the nights are only slightly over thirteen hours.


Religion:

Want a list of the gods and their purviews? Tough; Ethsharitic religion doesn't work that way. Nobody claims to know who all the gods are, or even how many there are. Priests and theurgists will generally develop relationships with a certain selection, either ones they were introduced to by their masters during apprenticeship, or ones they've come across on their own, one way or another. People other than priests tend to pray rather non-specifically -- in Lord Dunsany's words, "To whatever gods may hear." Some will latch onto a particular deity, or a specific shrine, but most prefer to mind their own business and let the gods mind theirs.

There's no ruling hierarchy of gods. Some are obviously more important than others, but there's no king or queen, no central triad; the gods are assumed to be anarchists. After all, since they're incapable of evil, they have no use for law enforcement; they don't need public works; with certain peculiar exceptions they don't use money, so they don't have taxes or coinage or tariffs; they conduct no trade, so they don't need regulations. The Ethsharites just don't see any reason gods would need a government.

In practice, the gods are seen as well-intentioned, but detached and whimsical, with little understanding of mortal existence. There's also the known fact that any time you talk to the gods, there's a good chance demons will listen in. Dealing with gods is therefore seen as something best left to the experts, i.e., priests and theurgists.


Physical Geography:

I've added the original rough map that served as the basis for creating the World; this is just a rough version, and shows the World as of Y.S. 5220.

The World is bounded to the north by the Plains of Ice, to the south and west by The Ocean, and to the east by the deserts that used to be the eastern lands; what lies beyond those deserts I've never said, and am not going to here. There's also the grassland to the southeast of the Small Kingdoms, as described in The Unwilling Warlord, between the deserts and the sea.

There are two large peninsulas along the coastline, one really almost a headland rather than a peninsula. The western peninsula is sort of at the southwest corner, and that's where the Pirate Towns (Free Lands of the Coast) are. The other peninsula is an overgrown sandbar, sort of like Baja California (though not as long or straight), and that separates the Ocean from the Gulf of the East (which the people of the Small Kingdoms call the Great Gulf).

So the Gulf of the East has the Small Kingdoms to the east, the peninsula to the west, and the marshy lands around the mouth of the Great River to the north, with the southern end open to the Ocean. Except that it doesn't actually run north/south; it's slanted, the north end well to the west of the south end.

Iridith's beach house in The Misenchanted Sword was out on the peninsula, which is sparsely inhabited because much of it is too sandy to farm and the surrounding waters are too warm for serious fishing, too shallow for trade. It does produce shellfish.

There's a central mountain range running from north-central to southeast, in two sections; the larger northern section is the mountains of Sardiron, the lower southern section is the mountains of the Small Kingdoms. The Great River accumulates in a valley roughly paralleling the Sardironese mountains, fed by hundreds of small tributaries.


History and Political Geography:

I've added the original rough map that served as the basis for creating the World; this is just a rough version, and shows approximate borders as of Y.S. 5220.

The World was originally home to two empires: Old Ethshar surrounded the southern mountain range, and reached from the Gulf of the East in the west to somewhere in what's now the Great Eastern Desert. It ran from the southern edge of the World north to open grasslands in the area between the two mountain ranges, somewhat north of the northern end of the Gulf.

The Northern Empire was in the north, in rolling, wooded hills to the east of the mountains of Sardiron.

During the Great War, the two powers extended themselves vastly, effectively covering the entire World between them, though it was often very thin coverage. The frontier moved back and forth, but most of the time, the Northerners controlled most of the forested lands, while the Ethsharites controlled most of the open plains and grasslands. Some of the plain was Northern, actually--the northern part. There was effectively a line drawn across the middle of the map. (Incidentally, the Northern Empire was never a sea power, never had a major port anywhere.)

In the final part of the war all the eastern lands of both nations were obliterated, becoming desert, and the heartland of the Northern Empire received similar treatment.

After the war, the Hegemony of the Three Ethshars initially claimed everything west of the Small Kingdoms that had replaced Old Ethshar, but quickly abandoned everything that had been Northern territory. (Everything directly north of the Small Kingdoms is now uninhabited wilderness.) They later lost the western peninsula to "pirates," though that may just be temporary.

So that leaves all the Northern Empire's lands unaccounted for.

The central-west coast, which had changed hands several times, and the large island about forty miles offshore, became the Kingdom of Tintallion, which has been fighting a messy civil war since the fifty-second century.

North of Tintallion lies Meroa, which has no central government and is mostly inhabited by isolated villages of fisherfolk; north of that lies Kerroa, which is even more primitive, heavily forested, and with a smaller total population than some single streets in Ethshar of the Spices--it's cold, nasty country. Not completely unlike Maine.

Inland from Kerroa is empty forest, not really owned by anyone and basically uninhabited.

Inland from Meroa lies Aala, a stretch of open plain worked by subsistence farmers who don't pay any attention to governments or borders or any of that other civilized stuff.

Inland from Tintallion, north of the Hegemony, lies Shanna, a somewhat warmer, richer plain than Aala, but still not a great place -- think Dakota Territory. (Well, not that dry, actually.) There's no real central government, but there's some semblance of national identity, and enough coherence to ward off land-grabs by Tintallion, Sardiron, and the Hegemony.

Shanna and Aala together are about the size of the entire Small Kingdoms.

Shanna, Aala, and the Small Kingdoms put together are almost as big as the Hegemony.

So that's the coastal plains -- Kerroa, Meroa, Tintallion, Aala, Shanna, the Hegemony of the Three Ethshars, and the western Small Kingdoms.

Now, down the center of the non-desert World there's a line of mountains and the Great River. The mountains aren't really a straight line, though; they bend around some, and have smaller ranges branching off.

The western slopes of the mountains and the lands down to the Great River, and then extending a few miles west of the river, to where the land flattens and dries out into the plains, are the Baronies of Sardiron. This was originally outlying territory of the Northern Empire, just as the eastern peninsula and southern coastline were outlying territory for Old Ethshar.

There's also Tazmor. At one point, near the middle of the northern mountain range, there are passes (called The Passes) where one can cross to the eastern slopes without much difficulty; beyond the Passes is a broad, sheltered valley -- another branch of the mountains wraps around its northern side, and a little to the northeast, separating it from the Northern Deserts where the Empire used to be. This valley is Tazmor, and that branch mountain range contains the richest mines in the known World, so even though it's dangerously close to the Northern Deserts, it's been colonized.

The western slopes north of The Passes are collectively called Srigmor; the southern end of the Sardironese mountains is Aldagmor. South Srigmor is within the Baronies of Sardiron; North Srigmor is considered wilderness and is not governed by anybody, though in fact there are people who live there. (See "Portrait of a Hero," in Once Upon A Time.) Aldagmor is entirely in Sardiron.

Sardiron itself is Sardiron of the Waters, a walled city built on the ruins of a Northern fortress at the headwaters of the Great River, about fifty miles southwest of The Passes.

Ethshar of the Rocks lies on the western coast, almost sixty miles south of Tintallion.

Ethshar of the Sands is on the southern coast, midway between the two peninsulas.

Ethshar of the Spices is on the eastern peninsula, in a small bay not too far from the mouth of the Great River.

There are two hundred and four Small Kingdoms as of 5220 YS; the number, which had increased pretty steadily for centuries and then stabilized around 5100 YS, starts to decrease after that, as a result of empire-builders like Vond.

Kardoret, Valder's home town, is gone, wiped out in the war; I don't even remember where it was, though I did figure it out once.

Telven is a tributary village of Shan on the Sea, the largest and dominant of the Pirate Towns. Shan is at the tip of the western peninsula, right on the headland; Telven is northeast of that, farther inland. Telven is small and obscure and of no interest to anyone who doesn't live there.

Theoretically, the Pirate Towns are run by a council of representatives from the various towns, but in practice Shan runs everything.

Sardiron has no connection at all with the Pirate Towns, except that both were once claimed by the Hegemony and broke away. But Sardiron broke away about 150 years earlier. It's got the same council set-up as the Pirate Towns, more or less -- in fact, the Pirate Towns copied it from Sardiron -- except in Sardiron it works the way it's supposed to. The Baron of Sardiron, who's chairman-for-life of the Council of Barons, has no real power base, but enough authority that he can keep any of the really powerful barons -- such as the Baron of Aldagmor -- from taking over. The Baronies are effectively a federal state, like the U.S., while the Pirate Towns are really a city-state, Shan, and its subordinates.


Architecture and Urban Planning:

I'm not going to write any essays on this one -- for one thing, there's huge variation from one place to another -- but if you're interested you might want to take a look at a slightly-fire-damaged sketch of Wizard Street in Ethshar of the Sands that I drew back around 1979 or '80, showing what the shops look like. Naturally, the streets would never be this empty or clean, and in other cities, where the ground is more stable, there's a tendency to build taller structures.

You might also want to look at some outtakes from The Spell of the Black Dagger. These include descriptions of parts of Ethshar of the Sands. This is stuff I cut when I was revising the story.


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Original version created: Tuesday, March 5, 1996
Last updated: Saturday, April 9, 2011