First published in Tales of the Reaching Moon issue #4
Copyright © 1990 by Michael O’Brien
This account, taken from the shelves of the Pavis Temple of Knowledge, gives the reader an insight into contemporary Sun County life and politics, as seen through the eyes of Jaxarte Whyded, a young Lunar official who visited the region in 1617 S.T.
To Sor Eel, governor of Prax, came in 1617 one Jaxarte Whyded, to take up a vacant junior position on his general staff. Though impoverished, Jaxarte’s family was well-connected, and through careful use of patronage had had the young man placed in this bureaucratic position, which (on Jaxarte’s own admission years later) was far beyond the ken of his experience or mettle. Apparently, Jaxarte had no liking for the work of an official; his consuming passion was architecture, particularly temple design. His later career attests that he was in fact an architect of some ability, but in Prax he had no chance to exercise such talents.
Compelled to do something with his unmotivated nephew, Sor Eel appointed Jaxarte “Commissioner of the Imperial Census for Prax”. The Imperial Census had actually been conducted several years before. All Jaxarte was required to do was revise the existing figures, which Sor Eel considered unreliable. Although the census officially had nothing to do with taxation, many of S or Eel’s vassals viewed the youth’s appointment with alarm, thinking that somehow the governor proposed to revise the already high taxation levies. Jaxarte’s job was made all the more difficult by such people, who wished to obfuscate and confound his researches.
Jaxarte was initially unhappy about being sent far from the comparative pleasures of Pavis but, as time progressed, he took to his task with gusto and compiled extremely detailed reports. Jaxarte did not confine himself solely to the revision of the population figures; in a private journal he also wrote about his experiences and travels across Prax. Although some scholars consider most of his population estimates to be wildly inaccurate, his journal is still useful for its impressions of Prax under the Lunars.
The census occupied him for several years and, up until his removal from office [in the purge following Sor Eel’s disgrace after the cradle affair], Jaxarte entertained plans to publish his journal in a “Grand Gazetteer of Prax.” Unfortunately, Jaxarte was forced to hurriedly return to the Heartlands (where he finally convinced his family to let him study architecture). Jaxarte Whyded’s writings soon got lost under a pile of administrative trivia in Pavis’s Temple of Knowledge.
*The unconventional design of the Yana Aranis temple of Mirin’s Cross, built by Jaxarte in his middle years, was said by critics to have “captured the raw essence of the power of desert wind”, with its broad sweeping lines and glaring bulk. Several years after its completion it was extensively remodified back into a less original design by a more orthodox high priest.
Jaxarte’s writings languished in the Lhankor Mhy library for some years until they were discovered and later translated by Floriat Fedora, a young but well-read junior sage. She edited and later (in extreme old age) published selections of Jaxarte’s writings as part of a World Chronicle of the Third Age, a popular genre of the period. The excerpt given below is not from this pompous and derivative work, but rather from Floriat’s original draft translation of Jaxarte’s journal. The main text is unmistakably Jaxarte’s; the occasional footnotes are Floriat’s.
This selection describes Jaxarte’s impressions of Sun County, the Yelmic territory west of Pavis. Loath to venture out into the dangerous plaines themselves, Jaxarte made Sun County one of the first places to begin his work. As will be seen, Jaxarte’s naivety and political inexperience, coupled with Count Solanthos’s fear that he was coming to reassess the taxes, gave the youth an unpleasant introduction to the world of diplomatic intrigue.
All Praise the Reaching Moon!
I, Jaxarte Whyded, Commissioner of the Imperial Census, recount a journey taken through Sun County, there to gain audience with Count Solanthos Ironpike.
The Sun Folk’s strong-lands begin across the ford at Garhound. To my shock, the commander of my escort suddenly announced that he had orders not to proceed further. Evidently, a detachment of Yelmic hoplites was to greet me on the opposite bank of the river. Sun Dome templars, not Lunar legionnaires, were to convey me to my audience with Count Solanthos Ironpike, ruler of Sun County. Although technically Lunar allies, the people of Sun County have always exhibited a staunch independence, and Uncle1 did not want to unnecessarily antagonize them by marching occupation troops through their land. I concurred, and allowed my escort to return to the city.
Garhound is a squalid town of 866 souls, evidently typical of those along the river valley. Its only building of note (the home of the Garhound family) is of unspectacular design. Despite my credentials these country hicks refused to receive me, claiming they had not been informed of my arrival by his excellency the governor. I was therefore compelled to quarter in the verminous stockade with the common soldiers2. In the mean time, my driver set about changing the axles of my gig so that they would fit the wheel ruts of Sun County, a tedious but necessary task3. Several days later, my Yelmic escort appeared on the opposite side of the river.
Having heard much of the discipline, precision, (and punctuality!) of the Sun Dome hoplites, I was shocked to see the dirty, uncouth squad of louts sent to fetch me4. Their leader, a pimply lad scarcely older than his followers, explained that they were not templars, but “Sun Dome Militia” – farmers’ sons for the most part – doing their annual cult service. The militia leader had the audacity to demand a gold wheel “entry impost”, which I flatly refused to pay. He continued to press for payment, until I threatened to expose this graft to his commander.
Sun County is flat and monotonous. The farmers are obliged to sow four-fifths of their holdings with barley. The temple takes one-third of the barley harvest as tax. The other one-fifth of their plots the farmers may use as they please: crops include hops, grapes, rye and wheat. It is said that deep in fields some farmers illicitly grow the banned narcotic Hazia, though I saw no sign5.
Illegal stills too are said to be hidden among the villages, for the Yelmalio cult controls all brewing in the County. Date palms line the sides of the road, but the cult also enjoys a strict monopoly on their produce. The land is skillfully irrigated, and all farmers are expected to give a portion of their time to maintain the channels.
Division of the land into farming plots is very rigid, and such plots are usually rectangular. The annual fertility spell of Sun Dome temple affects the crops of these temple lands. Farmers inherit special white stones marked with fertility runes to signify that their plot is part of the temple lands6. The Yelmalian fertility ritual calls for the stones to remain in place all year, or the spell will be broken for that particular farm.
Lately a rumour about a great treasure under one of these rocks has been spread across the County. The farmers take a grim view of treasure-seekers disturbing their stones, though they themselves often give in to temptation and peek underneath. This has brought about an agricultural disaster. Severe punishments have been decreed for those caught overturning the stones, but still food production remains severely affected7.
The people of Sun County themselves are plain by Pelorian standards, with blonde hair and dark eyes. Men typically go about with full beards, but women are expected to cover their faces modestly when in the presence of strangers8. They speak an unusual dialect, a mixture of several tongues, but refrain from discourse with outsiders. Although their leaders deign not to trade in the silver coin of the Empire (preferring gold), the common folk willingly enough accept the silver Imperial. The Lokarnos wagon-cult controls all trade and portage in the County, save that which goes by river.
The Sun Dome Temple
In an otherwise uninteresting region, the Sun Dome temple itself comes as a pleasant surprise. The temple complex is an imposing series of buildings, executed in the severe, formal style of Dara Happa9 yet is here, deep in the desert! From some distance one can see the great Sun Dome of the temple, a gilded half-sphere that almost blinds the viewer with its reflected radiance. Beside the temple proper is small town, usually referred to as “The Yard”. To my disappointment I found The Yard to be scarcely different to any other town in the valley, though I admit the streets were wider and cleaner. Approximately 1000 souls live here, many of whom work directly for the temple.
Count Solanthos Ironpike
After a night’s rest in one of the temple guest houses, I was roused from my bed at dawn and instructed to dress for my audience with the Count. As I prepared to enter the temple complex one of splendidly-attired guards suddenly ripped my crimson cloak off my back and threw it to the ground! I went to retrieve it, but despite my protests was hustled on10.
Unlike its outward magnificence, the interior of the Sun Dome temple is a confusing array of cloisters and corridors. I finally found myself in the temple’s council chamber, a majestic gilded room, lined with scrolls dating to antiquity. There, before me on a simple yet commanding throne sat Count Solanthos Ironpike, ruler of Sun County. Once a duelist of some distinction, yet now in middle age tending to corpulence, Count Solanthos wears a thick black beard, although his receding hair is quite blonde11. When I arrived the Count was apparently conducting a trial: the two defendants before him had been arrested some hours earlier on the charge of “fornication”12. Despite their impassioned pleas for mercy, the Count curtly cut the pair short, stating he had fulfilled his legal obligations to them and was now ready to pass sentence. The man he ordered to be blinded and imprisoned in an retirement tower for life; the woman was to be taken out immediately and strangled13. All this for mere “fornication”!14. The malefactors dispensed with, Count Solanthos was ready for me. I presented him with my credentials and began a skillfully composed panegyric lauding the close links the Empire enjoyed with Sun County. Unimpressed with my oratory, the Count peremptorily silenced me and bade me come to the point. Taken aback, I requested from him the necessary data I required to update the census. The Count gruffly replied that such information could have easily have been sent by routine courier, and why had Sor Eel sent a spy!!! I began to protest my innocence of such a charge, but the Count dismissed me imperiously. Instead, he gestured to a liveried attendant who handed me a gilded scroll. “This should satisfy your master, boy!”, the Count sneered. What could I do but thank him and withdraw gracefully? Taking his hint, I made immediate plans to return to Pavis.
Uncle burst into peals of laughter when I showed him these documents, remarking that the Count had a fine gift for fiction. He casually tossed the scroll into a wastepaper basket, and told me that I could gain a truthful account of Sun County’s population figures in last year’s Lunar tax records15. As I left the governors’ office, my head fogged with the intricacies of high politics, I wondered if my apparently futile trip to Sun County had some deep political purpose I was not as yet privy to?16
- Sor Eel. Jaxarte was the third son of Sor Eel’s elder half-sister Euridice.
- One wonders why Jaxarte did not stay at the local inn, which could have hardly been more verminous than the Lunar fort.
- What could be a better illustration of the insular and aloof nature of Sun Dome society than their roads!
- Obviously a calculated insult on the part of the Count. (Then again, perhaps Sor Eel’s sending of the 17-year-old Jaxarte as a Lunar emissary was also a calculated insult?)
- Hazia is illegal, but greatly-sought after in the Lunar Heartlands.
- Thus, the purchase of a farm is often colloquially called “Getting a rock”.
- Count Solanthos arrived at a novel solution to this problem: he issued a decree that the “great treasure” had been found, and displayed a fine golden cup at the markets of the County for the next season. He also publicly whipped several “rumour mongers”.
- The mere sight of a woman’s elbow or thigh is considered a scandalous outrage by the pious; a significant erotic event by the irreverent.
- Here Jaxarte’s incomplete knowledge of architecture is obvious. The “Dara Happan” style which he enthuses about is admittedly “formal and severe”, yet places a much greater emphasis on symmetry than is evident at Sun County.
- Jaxarte had the lack of political tact to attempt entering a Yelmalio temple wearing red, the colour of Fire, the lost power.
- Count Solanthos does in fact have naturally black hair, unlike most of his subjects who tend to be blondes. A man of tremendous vanity, the Count obtained permission from the priests to dye his hair the lighter shade. He was forbidden to do the same to his beard on the grounds that this would constitute “disguising himself as a woman”, something a good Yelmalian male must never do. (Curiously, it is all right for a Yelmalian woman to disguise herself as a man!)
- Court transcripts record that the man and woman had in fact been married, but, following cult dictates were forced to divorce each other five years after the man became a priest. Unable to curb his passions for her, the man had taken to visiting his former wife and was eventually informed upon by a neighbor. It is unusual that the Count chose the early morning to judge a capital crime. Such offenses are usually heard in the noon hour, “full under the impartial and just light of Yelm.” Jaxarte’s presence at the trial was most probably intentional, as another form of intimidation.
- It has been said of the Count that he loved the correct forms of legality almost as much as he despised the concept of justice.
- The Count’s severe attitude towards sexual and moral offenses may be a symptom of the restrictive geas Yelmalio compels him to follow.
- The Count obviously thought Jaxarte had been sent to investigate the revenue potential of the County, which had not been reassessed since the conquest. Count Solanthos therefore furnished him with bogus figures, which deliberately under-estimated the County’s population [and thus tax liability]. To Jaxarte’s credit, his thorough examination of the previous year’s tax records enabled him to come to a fairly accurate population figure for his census. I quote from his report:
- Urban Sun County…….1058 souls; includes temple staff, garrison and craftsmen. Extensive ironsmithing/goldworking shop.
- Eiskolli…….414 souls. Population swells to over 700 in late dark season, when the local tannery reaches maximum output.
- Helmbold…….556 souls; excluding river-folk. Major source of flax in Sun County. Has resident ironsmith.
- Harpoon…….234 souls. This village is remarkable only for the large machine housed there, used to kill sea monsters.
- Rory’s Well…….399 souls. Located on the edge of the Long Dry, an important caravan watering place.
- Chomoro…….619 souls. At the far southern end of the Sun Dome lands.
- Morning, Cornspot, Arrowsands, Dawn, Shallow Corner, Flatvale, Yellow, Queenscliff and Daybreak are all small settlements with populations between 68 and 209 souls.
- The village of Sandy Lot has been renamed “Repentance” for a year-and-a-day by order of the Count, as punishment for failing to pay its annual cult remittances.
- Since the last census, the village of Goldwater has been decimated by swamp fever and most of the populace have moved to other parts of the County.
- Rabbit Hat village was sacked and burned by unknown nomads late last year and its inhabitants were carried off.
- Rural farmers…….12193 souls.
- TOTAL POPULATION OF SUN COUNTY, IMPERIAL PROVINCE OF PRAX: 17338 souls.
- I have already proposed that Sor Eel’s motive for sending the inexperienced junior bureaucrat as his emissary was to subtly insult the Count and his haughty pretensions. Then again, perhaps Sor Eel was simply being ingenuous, though of this is certainly not one of the governor’s apparent traits.
- A Hard Landing
- Jaxarte and the Bison Khan
- Jaxarte and the Chaos Fiends
- Jaxarte and the Emperor
- Jaxarte on the Borderlands
- Moonson’s Number Two
- The Lismelder Tribe – the Lunar Traveller’s Point of View
- The Son of Light Awakens
- Yolanela Spurned
- Jaxarte Introduction and NPC stats
- Goslem Whyded NPC stats and his fabled Lottery Sword
Page Last updated: 2022-11-26 13:28:10