May 16, 2011

Lands of Syrene: The Lakhonese Jungle Kingdoms

The mighty Narvari River and its tributaries drain an enormous low basin of lush jungle south of the T’sin Empire, and is the largest river in Syrene.  Halfway down to sea the river expands, like the belly of a just-fed python, into an enormous lake – Lake Lakhon.

Surrounding this lake and along the rivers are dozens of city-states whose people share a common language and culture, each an island of civilization surrounded by miles of trackless rain forest.  The Lakhonese kingdoms are hard for sea rovers to reach because of the long and dangerous voyage upriver, but offer so much wealth that there will always be those who will dare.

The Lakhonese jungle kings rule from palaces of elaborately carved stone in great temple-cities, and vie with each other in constructing ever-larger temples and monuments.  An order of priests called the Golden Council runs the temples in all the kingdoms and encourages the kings to compete in construction as an alternative to war.  At stake is the prestigious title of Radyahari – Sun King – given by the Golden Council every twenty years to the monarch who recently finished the grandest construction project. 

The Lakhonese enjoy a great and easily harvested bounty of natural wealth. The yearly flooding of the rivers nourishes their rice fields and practically delivers large, even gigantic fish to their doorsteps.  The jungle yields many treasures, such as ebony and aromatic sandalwood, mahogany and teak, exotic resins and waxes, spices, perfumes, and wild elephants which are captured and trained as draft and fighting beasts.  The beds of some rivers are also known to contain diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies, tempting prospectors to brave the dangers of carnivorous fish and giant snakes to dig for gems.

Indeed, the Lakhonese are so rich in land and resources that the most valuable thing to them are the warm bodies needed to work their fields and gem mines.  When the jungle kingdoms go to war, they do so not to conquer more land but to take slaves.  The more slaves a kingdom has, the more rice it can grow, the more warriors it can field, and the more slaves it can take in the next war.  And the more slaves a kingdom has, the grander the monuments it can build.  Thus in a way the Golden Council’s  building contest has failed to produce lasting peace, for one way to win it is to be successful in war.

The White City of Langkor lies at the northern end of Lake Lakhon, and has never been reached by sea rovers before. The city is built entirely of white sandstone, quarried from distant cliffs and brought down the Narvari in great rafts.  The kings of Langkor are proud to have won the title of Radyahari no less than four times in a row, but the titanic effort of building so many grand temples has exhausted the kingdom.

The people are seething with resentment at the draconian steps the current king, Arjunaraj III, took to finish his last temple, and the ministers are trying to hide the fact that the treasuries are near-empty.  The only thing propping up Arjunaraj is the fact that he is still the Radyahari; when in a few years from now the Golden Council judges the kings again, he is sure to lose the title and with it the prestige and the stream of gifts that he has been using to prop up his regime. 

Langkor used to be the prime producer of sandalwood in the region, but to pay for his temples the king has had nearly all the kingdom’s sandalwood trees cut down, and it will be years before the groves can recover. 

Khannyavar is a kingdom that comprises three cities – Khannya, Varanga, and Phao.  Khannya and Varanga were once at war, but when a T’sin admiral mistakenly sank a ship carrying the Khannyan princess on a peace mission to Varanga, the two kingdoms united to throw the T’sin out. 

Now the Kingdom of the Three Cities forms one of the most powerful and influential nations of the Narvari basin.  Khannyavar dominates the southern side of Lake Lakhon, and leads in the gem and sandalwood trades.

Mandalam is called the City of The Trophies, for in the climactic Battle of Yellow Cliffs its forces played a key role in wiping out a T’sin tribute fleet, and later scavenged much of the fleet’s treasure.

The gate of Mandalam is flanked by the prows of two huge T’sin warships, the king’s throneroom features a high colonnade of ships’ masts,  and gold-and-red-lacquer panels from the T’sin ships adorn the dwellings of the royalty and nobility.  It is said there is a secret Imperial edict offering a great reward and honorary titles to whoever can sack Mandalam and raze the Empire’s shame away.

Mandalam lies along the Sarantha, a tributary of the Narvari that joins the great river near Yellow Cliffs.  It is one of the few Lakhonese cities that lies on high land, being built on a bluff overlooking the river.  Sea rovers can  reach the city only by leaving their ships behind near Yellow Cliffs and taking canoes up the Sarantha, but the journey is usually worthwhile: Mandalam produces the best cardamom, and the art of its jade-carvers is highly prized.

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