May 18, 2011

Lands of Syrene: Ferouz

Mountainous, landlocked Ferouz is the oldest of the Palmarian kingdoms, the birthplace of the legendary King Ilkanun the Lawgiver, also called the Wise. Nestled against the forbiddingly tall Karashahr Mountains, Ferouz is a majestic land of craggy slopes, deep and lushly green valleys cut by loud foaming rivers, alpine meadows and forests of cedar and pine sitting above the desert plains.  The valleys of Ferouz are well-watered by icy streams fed by snow from the mountaintops, and are known for their rich fields and orchards.

The Ferouzan people pride themselves on being the longest-settled of the Palmarian race, having lived in cities when all other Palmarians were living in tents as nomads, and they regard themselves as the most learned and refined of all Palmarians.  The kingdom is known for its poets, scholars, sorcerers, astrologers, and physicians.  Ferouz is also known for its exquisite and elaborate cuisine, its wines especially from the valley of Sharizad, and its weaving, specially the rugs made by the highland tribes. 

These craggy highlands are also home to the fiercely independent Zahrids, Tughrids, Lakmids and Zyroushans, non-Palmarian tribes who speak their own languages and have their own distinct cultures.  They are an even older people than the Palmarians, being the original inhabitants of the region, and sometimes they rebel against the sultans of Ferouz.

Ferouz is also renowned as a land of legends and lost cities, for there were many tribes and small kingdoms here during the dawn ages of Syrene that no longer exist. Many of their cities were destroyed or buried during the Man-Deev War, and later after the rise of the necromantic empire of Sekhmet the ruins were invaded by Sekhmetian creations such as carnivorous scarabs, giant scorpions, and ghouls. 

The city of Yarkand is known for the picturesque beauty of its flower gardens and fountains, and for the skill of its Tughrid smiths, who forge here the best steel in Palmaria. It is said Yarkandi steel can only be made in Yarkand because only here are the high-quality ore, the fine charcoal from the mountains, and the pure water of the Sihr river all found together with the smiths who know their secrets. 

The historic city of Farsana is the capital of Ferouz, and is the second-oldest city in Palmaria. Nestled in a high alpine valley overlooking the charming Lake Zan, the city is known for its blue-tiled buildings, stately gardens and ancient statuary, its lakeside festivals and water gardens, and its centers of knowledge and learning. 

Here are numerous libraries and universities, and in an old hilltop palace a few miles away is the Ilkanun Observatory, the center of Palmarian astrology.  Students from across Palmaria come to study in Farsana, bringing back with them a touch of Ferouz’s ancient elegance and fine taste along with their knowledge.

The sleepy walled town of Samurrad is the oldest city in all Palmaria, now shrunken in population and wealth since the wells supplying its surrounding fields dried up.  Samurrad is known for its weaving, and Samurradi carpets are distinguished by a unique shade of royal blue made from local dyes found nowhere else.  Most of the city’s inhabitants now are Zahrids, a fiercely independent tribe that has rebelled against the sultans of Ferouz quite a few times. 

Red Desert
The Red Desert is a strip of uninhabited sandy desert whose dunes are the red of rust or dried blood.  Local legends warn all travelers to avoid the place, for it is inhabited by drughs and by the ghosts of Ilshar, a city that long ago was buried by a sandstorm lasting a whole day and night by the sorcery of a rival king when the land was divided between warring petty kingdoms. 

The high valley of Bakhtiara is one of the most beautiful natural spots in all Syrene, and is also the main source of lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone highly prized by all Palmarians.  The valley however is also known as the haunt of peris, whose capricious humor and bewitching beauty are a source of both wonder and fear to travelers.  Peris have been known to kidnap humans who fascinate them and keep them in the mountains under enchantment for years on end, and those who have tasted the delights of such a life are never really fit for the mortal world again.

Suram Pass
The snowy Suram Pass is one of the highest mountain passes known in the world, and is the only route through the Karashahr Mountains into the Western Outland kingdoms: Zhirgestan of the sapphire mines, Meharistan of the thousand princes and fine horses, and more lands even the Palmarians know little about.  Few Palmarians ever see these regions, and they are as distant and fabulous to them as the Empire of T’sin in the east.  Suram Pass is also known as the haunt of snow leopards, who grow strong and bold enough here to attack horses, and of giant eagles that sometimes prey on men.

The ancient city of Makhtam lies along the old caravan route from Bakhtiara to Yarkand, but travelers avoid it now in dread of its inhabitants.  Long ago it is said that a deev in human guise entered the city, and though they welcomed him at first, the people demanded he pay for his lodgings and turned him out with curses when he showed he had no money.  In anger the deev resumed his true form, and turned the Makhtami into baboons.  Troops of savage baboons still roam the city and its surroundings, attacking and devouring travelers whenever they can overpower them.  The baboons retain some shred of human intelligence, and know enough to stage ambushes, throw rocks from the clifftops (Makhtam overlooks a sheer-walled mountain pass), and to use distractions to divide groups and defeat them in detail.

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