A vast, desert where religion and intellectualism flow like the shifting sands, the Parth Desert intimidates outsiders, but the natives love it as a mother. This region is as lush in history as its delta region is with life.
Parthann and Tarth are both in the Parth desert, which gives both countries, and the empire that spawned them, their names. The desert stretches for hundreds of miles, with only a very rare oasis to break it up. While it is all desert, there is a remarkable variation in the actual terrain. Sandy desert makes up the largest portion of the desert, especially on the eastern half, but there are also rocky deserts that sport wild cacti and scrub growth, as well as the mountainous land along the coast on the western edge of the empire.
The foothills of the Kharnis mountains sport a huge variety in color and formations in the rocks. There are rumors of ancient civilizations and the remains, perhaps from before the Great Catastrophe, of their cities in the foothills and their mountains. These rumors are generally discounted by all but the most superstitious, but there is even a small minority that like to tell tales of these civilizations still being around.
The Kharnis mountains are themselves also arid, but because of the abundance of shade there is more life there. There are even large animals that live out existence in this region.
The only other physical feature that breaks up the desert terrain is also the most obvious – the great Ilne River. The Ilne is a wide, deep river that runs from the south into the great ocean. The Ilne is the embodiment of Az-Mozeth to the Parthites, and it is the great giver of life. It is along the Ilne that all the major cities in Parthann and Tarth are found.
The Ilne floods annually, sometimes spreading as far as three hundred miles away from the river at it’s low point. The waters rise an average of 25 feet in most spots, but in areas where there are steeper banks it may rise as much as 35 feet. It is this inundation that allows farming in the region. However, it is also a possible hazard for those who live there. Rather than move repeatedly, over a potential hundreds of miles, Parthite buildings are built very tall. A normal residence is usually around 40 feet tall. The first usable level is typically 30 feet off the ground, and all that is underneath it is an empty room with a stair case.
There are several cities that exist along the Ilne river. The largest of these is Kash, located where the Ilne delta begins. Kash is the capital of Parthann, which controls all the delta, and it is the port where most ships dock to unload their goods. Some ships continue on to Neala, but to get to this Tarth port, they must pay the high toll at Kash, and so most would rather not bother.
Kash is home to five of the universities that have made Parthann so important to the world, as well as the world’s largest library and the world’s only public museum. The three universities, the port, and the government define most of the life and work of the people of Kash, and even for Parth, the people here are very educated. Naturally, because of the brisk importing business, there is a very large market. Merchants must purchase something for their return trip, and even scholars and civil servants must eat, and so much of the crops grown throughout Parthann are brought downriver to Kash to be sold.
Along the Parthann side of the river there are relatively few major towns. Most of it is a constant series of farms, though there are a few large towns that hold a university or a library along the banks. Necropoli also dot the riverside, particularly on high points over looking the river.
Neala, located where the Ilne turns south on its journey to the sea is controlled by Tarth (though there is a Parthann version on the north bank across from it, considerably smaller but growing) and is a religious center. In fact, it is the religious center for Tarth. It is where the Predicant lives and there are a large number of temples here as well. By agreement, Tarth can send it’s vessels up the river and through Kash with no fees or taxes, thus the gather spot for crops is here. Neala boasts a very active market as well.
Neala is the location of the largest silk producing industry anywhere. A great number of businesses and yards have been built to corral the silkworms and control production. Parthann has a rival ranch area to the west (where the river turns north again), but it has not been as successful. Neala also produces a number of scents that are starting to gain popularity abroad.
Oasin, along the coast of Tarth, at the mouth of the Parthite Bay, is the capital of Tarth. The capital was moved here after the split, and it has never grown very large. While civil servants and the empress live here, the only other industry is the library. The city is subject to the storms that plague the sea, and thus the library, the university, and the palace are not well kept. Oasin is subject to the whims of the Predicant in Neala, and there is little political power found here either. However, Oasin does boast a large vault which claims to hold several important relics, including Paeal, the sword wielded by the hero Caeral. The vault is a massive, standalone structure, bigger than any other building in the city.
The final important city in Tarth is Sindis, a town located where the desert begins to turn into grasslands, and in the foothills of the Kharnis mountains. It is in Sindis that Tarth’s only university is located. They focus studies on geology and mining here, but there is a growing anthropology department as well. Sindis has the most diverse population in all of Parth, interacting so much with the Free Cities. Sindis is becoming more and more like the Free Cities. Tarth is worried about losing this outpost, and has recently posted a large garrison.
Parthann has a noteworthy port at a peninsula in the north called Ginlu. This is where most of Parthann’s shipbuilding is done, and it is the launching point and supply post for their trips across the ocean. A small university exists here as well, primarily interested in weather, exploration, and anthropology. It is a relatively small, but bustling city. Artifacts from the northern continent are brought here before they are taken to other cities, even if the journeys were funded by other universities, and the University of Ginlu usually manages to get first crack at examining such objects.
Parthann colonies are primarily archeological sites run by the universities. However, Parthann has a strong interest in preserving these colonies and their studies, and so garrisons exist here too, which has led to a few other trades. In a few decades, there will probably be a full fledged city or two among the Parthann colonies. Parthann scholars claim to have found a broad array of anciently civilized sites. Other governments put little stock in this, as none of them have found so much.
Tarth colonies are fortresses. Tarth is very secretive about it’s reasons for colonizing, but it is worrisome to Tyleria, Bask, and Parthann that they would send so much military strength to a region of the world that is barely settled.
It is impossible to understand the empires of Tarth and Parthann without learning their shared history and the cause of their split.
In the ancient past, almost lost to legend, was the Great Catastrophe. A century of storms, earthquakes, and upheaval permanently defaced the geography of Azmoth. Humanity was returned to a stone age, with no record of anything. They no longer had knowledge of medicine or writing.
The first kingdoms after this time were formed along the Ilne river in the Parth desert. Over 4000 years ago, nomadic tribes settled in the most fertile locations to cultivate the natural abundance. They began to defend their territory, assimilating or eliminating any other groups that come near. It was in one of these infant kingdoms, Kash, that writing was reinvented.
Over the next millennium the Ilne kingdoms grew, fighting each other for territory. On the west bank, kingdoms began exploring the rest of the desert and claiming it for their own — usually without resistance.
It was not till the first Darkling horde poured across the desert from the south that any sort of unity began to be apparent in this region. Several groups of refugees united at a settlement called Tel-Aken. Their backs to a bend in the river, they fought together under the banner of High-Priestess Neala. Her leadership proved successful, and after a decades long struggle, the Darklings were driven back. The southern lands named Neala Queen. Due to her religious position and their utter devotion to her charismatic leadership, the society became deeply religious and zealous after only a short period — a reputation that has not been lost in 3500 years.
The second most important figure of Parthite history was Caeral, known as the Angel-Blooded. He grew up a humble tradesman, a glassblower until his twentieth year. It was then that another Darkling Horde rose, two centuries after the first, besieging the Kingdom of Neala and threatening it extinction. Caeral joined a small band of men who tried to convince the Kash kingdom to send aid. They were expelled for their views and exiled to the desert.
In a long trek to the plains to the east, most of the group died of hunger and thirst. Caeral alone managed to find refuge with a nomadic tribe. He managed to unite them with several other tribes, which came to Neala’s aid, encouraging several of the other kingdoms to help. The struggle was still difficult, and at the Battle of Shining Sands the human alliance was decimated by the Darlking Horde, led by a half-demon called Bathakarl. After the battle, no one was able to find Caeral.
For several more years fighting continued, with the humans losing more often than not. Two years after the Battle of Shining Sands, Caeral returned, wielding a magic glass blade called Paeal. It shimmered with the light of heaven. Marrying the queen of Neala, he began re-uniting the tribes and kingdoms of the Ilne and preaching the Neala religion. He moved quickly, and soon the Darkling horde was driven into the desert to the west. In a great final battle, hundreds of thousands of Darklings are slain, and Caeral removed Bathakarl’s head with one stroke using Paeal. The sand was permanently turned red with blood – demon, darkling, and human, and is forever after known as the Bloodsand Desert.
The alliance led by Caeral and his wife chose to remain a political entity, and thus the Empire of Parth was born. Kash and the other kingdoms in the north unitde in response. While there was no love lost between the nations, there was also very little violence.
On the 300th anniversary of the formation of Parth, the Queen married the Sultan of Kash, thus absorbing it. The entire Parth desert, from the plains to the east, nearly to the grasslands east of the desert was now one great empire. Over the next two centuries trade roads, including the legendary Shining Path were built and patrolled by Parth, stretching from the capital of Kash and other key cities along the Ilne, all the way to the highlands and the grasslands to the east. The crowning achievement of this period was the founding of Sindis in the foothills where the desert and the grassland meet. This opened the path to more advantageous trade with the locals as well as the founding of several more colonies in the region.
Iron was discovered in the Parth highlands, and this brought the Empire of Parth a great deal of wealth. The Empress used this on infrastructure — maintaining and patrolling the Shining Path, public works, but most notably the creation of the first three universities on Azmoth, in Kash, Tel-Aken, and the remote Sindis. Of these, Kash was, and still is, the most prestigious.
However it was the University of Sindis that first created Iron Glass, a revolutionary material that routed the fourth darkling horde invasion quickly. Iron Glass is now nearly omnipresent throughout Tarth and Parthann.
For nearly three thousand years the empire of Parth continued peacefully. Then, three and a half centuries ago, Mariella, the Virgin Empress died with no heir. The resulting civil war was surprisingly bloody and terrible. The western portion of the empire claimed that the Empress’ seat was a religious position, and as such the ranking priest should fill the position. However, the east held up a noblewoman as a more competent and benevolent ruler. Zeal on both sides tore families apart and destroyed cities. Hostilities finally ended four decades later. The west claimed independence from the heretics to the east and named themselves Tarth.
The eastern empire established a hereditary empress, who was now dependant on two counselors, who could veto if united against the empress, but who were primarily to prevent future problems of inheritance. Together they were called the trinity, and they renamed the empire Parthann at this time.
The Parth cities and colonies in the grasslands found themselves with little or no contact with the rest of the empire. There had been no fighting in this region. The cities found that they were able to operate just fine without larger governing bodies. Combined with the cultural influence from Tyleria and the natives, the cities collectively declared themselves independent culturally, politically, economically, and socially, and each city became a self-governing city-state.
A century after the civil war, the relationship between Tarth and Parthann and became more friendly. A growing movement, particularly among the commoners, begins calling for reunification. The leaders began talks in earnest, but diplomacy broke down less than a year. Unable to come to an agreement on unity, but wanting to please the citizens of both nations, they call themselves siblings. Tarth is Parthann’s brother nation, and Parthann is called Tarth’s sister. They signed treaties of mutual support and defense.
It was only 15 years later when the treaties are tested for the first time. Another darkling horde fights its way up the river Ilne. The love between the nations proved to be true, however, and the two empires, working in close tandem, drove the hordes back in a short two years.
The last darkling invasion was 150 years ago now. Peace has brought prosperity, but also competition between the empires. They are friendly rivals, however, which was reinforced with the discovery of the northern continent fifty years ago. Both empires lent aid to each other to establish colonies northward, fending off Tylerian advances and claims.
Parthann and Tarth have an essentially similar religion. Many scholars, particularly in Tyleria, where everything besides their own doctrines is heresy, the two religions are thought of as one and the same. However, there are important sectarian differences.
The fundamental belief, in both religions, is the idea that Az-Mozeth created Azmoth, and he is embodied by the Ilne river, the source of all life. For this reason the creative principle is thought of as male by Parthites. This has led to some rather curious institutions.
The concept of Az-Mozeth’s incarnation is a difficult one to understand. Like the Tylerians (and most religions of Azmoth), Parthites believe that Az-Mozeth’s touch would destroy the world. However, they do believe in the Ilne being a literal embodiment of the god. They have been accused of cannibalism by others who hear this, and this charge is usually met with indifference by Parthites. Their scholars admit that there is credence to the accusation, but they do not consider it sinful. Az-Mozeth provides water from his blood for their sustenance, and it would instead be sinful to spurn such a gift.
Scriptures of Parth
Parthite religion has a great number of sacred writings, scrolls, and texts. There are literally hundreds of these text that are considered canonical scripture by the majority of Parthites on both sides of the Ilne. Though the exact lists of canon scripture varies somewhat (primarily by region, though larger cities, particularly university cities, will have groups who have slightly different lists), the greater part of them are universally regarded.
A few of the more important and widely accepted texts are described below
- The Book of the River: This small book is a collection of meditation mantras, prayers, and simple exhortations. It is thought to have originated with Neala, and is used as a primer for children as well as a handbook for all worshippers.
- The Jihad: The doctrines of this book are thought to have been passed orally for centuries, starting with Caeral, but not recorded until the end of the fifth darkling horde invasion. It gives theological and philosophical considerations to the art of war, especially war with the diabolic enemy. Most Tarthites consider the text valid, but question its origin
- Incarnal: This fragment is some 10,000 words long, and is the incomplete record of a debate between Parthite scholars about the embodiment of Az-Mozeth.
- In Service: This is the biography of Caeral as written by an anonymous, but apparently very intimate companion. Debates continue about the identity and even gender of this companion, but it is accepted as authentic. Frustratingly, the author does not discuss where or how he obtained Paeal.
- Nealandra: This tome collects several of the most authentic biographies of Neala. It is the book most commonly used in Parthann, while in Tarth it is regarded of minor value because of the simplicity of most of the biographies.
Sacramental baptisms and communions are held in the river, and meetings are held in the water as well. Parthite meetings are rigorous discussions and debates about the nature of Az-Mozeth’s incarnation, the role of angels and the Anhouim, propery piety, and other doctrines. The debates are very structured and speaking out of place is grounds for expulsion from the meeting. Few outsiders can understand the debate process without years of study. Anyone, Parthite or not, over the age of 12 years is permitted to participate if they follow the strict structures of the debates. Those who argue clearly non-Parthite understandings, however are often laughed at openly.
While there are a long list of blasphemies that are punishable by death (most having to do with disrespect of the Ilne or the male body), nothing said in a Parthite meeting is ever considered blasphemous — even if it would normally be heresy. All points of view are admitted, but once the meeting is over, repeating traditionally blasphemous ideas will have consequences.
Because Az-Mozeth, the creator and father, is embodied in the river and is the source of all life, Parthites put a high premium on the sacredness of the male body. Male nudity is taboo in their society. Female nudity, however, is common. Further, the male body is not permitted to be altered or scarred — tattoos and jewelry, especially piercings, are sinful.
Previous to the Great Division a Predicant, elected by a council of the most learned and esteemed priests, was elected as the head of the religion. The Predicant would direct the council and resolve disputes. The council would issue papers giving the council’s position. While technically having no institutional authority, much stock was given to the council’s position papers, and so the religion was shaped by the council.
However, since Tarth separated from Parthann, expediency has altered the structure. Both sides have always used scripture for the foundation of their religious debates, but since these are stored in libraries, primarily at the universities, Tarth has come to rely more and more upon the results of their debates. In Tarth, the Predicant has become an absolute authority. Anything she writes is scripture, and her voice has more authority than the result of any debate or any other scripture. Ironically, although Tarth has access to fewer scriptures, they are much more strict with the scriptures they do have: the writings of the Predicant.
In Parthann, however, they have completely done away with authority in the form of any individual. Thus the doctrines shift as the opinions of the educated public do. Thus, over the last few centuries, ideas have diverged a great deal, especially regarding complex ideas such as the incarnation of Az-Mozeth and the sacredness of the male body. Tarth has started to come to believe that this sacredness also extends to the female body, while Parthann remains conservative and "orthodox" on the issue, and female nudity is still very common to the west of the Ilne.
The primary difference is that Parthann has become less rigorously scholastic and intellectual. With fewer intellectuals and reduced access to scripture, pronouncements by priestly figures have become more accepted as doctrine. However, because the meetings have become less rigorous in debates, more ritual has started to creep in. Most congregations have ceremonial recitations to begin and end their meetings. Indeed, it is because of this that Parthann citizens can still debate with those from Tarth if the situation arises — they are very familiar with the few scriptures they do have.
There are also various blessings given in Parthann that have never been done in Tarth. The most important of these ritual blessings is performed at the new year, and a muddy paste made from sand and water from the Ilne is smeared on all citizens at the blessing. Such a paste is also often smeared on the male members of a congregation once a month or even once a week in some places.
The Parthites Themselves
Parthite life is, as a necessity, austere by most standards. Scarcity is the law of the desert, and scarcity of food and water translates to scarcity of other things. Parthites, even the well off and high-born, dress simply, in loose pants and tunics, tied at the waist, wrists, and ankles with leather straps or ribbon. Colors vary widely, as do patterns, though most clothes are made from the silkworms that thrive in the southern Ilne plains.
The first and most noticeable aspect is the nudity and partial nudity of the women. Despite the importance of the river, there are very few river people in the Parthite empires, and the desert people don’t suffer ill effects from exposure to the heat and sun. Thus, because it is not taboo, clothing is worn only for decoration, and in keeping with the plain dress, usually there is not very much of it.
The exception to the simplicity in fashion is jewelry. It is sinful to pierce the male body, but women wear a great deal of jewelry, primarily made from shells and stones from the river. Minerals are not common, so only the most wealthy women wear jewelry of gold or silver or even copper.
The second most abrupt custom of these empires is the greeting. Because of the sacredness of the river, and the scarcity of water, spitting on someone’s face in greeting is considered a sign of respect. It is customary to leave the spittle on your face when you are so honored. Parthites are open and welcoming, and generally, newcomers will be the recipient of spit until they prove themselves unworthy of the honor.
Parthites count age much differently than others. A Parthite is considered one year of age at birth. Age progresses at the new year. Natal days are not celebrated, instead, this celebration is wrapped up in the inauguration of a new year. Thus, conceivably, a child who is only a few days old could be considered two in Parthann or Tarth.
There are certain ages that are given special recognition in these countries. The age of 12, for example, is considered an entry into early adulthood — though true majority is not reached for three more years for girls, and five more for men. Thirty is also considered a special age, and it is then that a Parthite may apply to teach in the universities or to work as a civil servant.
Finally, 67, the age at which both Neala and Caeral died according to tradition, is considered the end of life. While it is not mandatory, a majority of Parthites spend this year creating a copy of the Book of the River and securing a glass case for it. At the next new year, they throw themselves into the Ilne with the large, heavy case and book chained to them. This is considered returning to Az-Mozeth and allowing your life energy to sustain future life, and is not sinful, like any other suicide.
Parthite society is not, strictly speaking, matriarchal. Men can and have held extremely important positions, frequently rivaling the empress and the Predicant in authority and reputation. However, women hold most of the positions, while men are predominantly scholars.
Marriage has a different pattern than most cultures. Because the procreative power of men is so sacred, and therefore valuable, women in the Parthite empires have come to "horde" them to build up their wealth. Women marry several men, as many as they wish, though only one is considered a full husband and it is this chief husband who actually sleeps with the wife.
The other men are almost considered property. While they may become the chief husband of another woman, this woman must pay a fee each month to keep him. While the first wife has the right to both change a husband’s status (to make him the chief husband or demote him) and to revoke the marriage of one of her lesser husbands, a husband who has been married to another woman is very rarely taken away, even if the woman becomes unable to pay.
Female children of marriages are considered the children of the father’s primary wife. Male children are the children of their literal mothers. Since there are (generally much larger than marriage fees) dowries paid for unmarried men to their mothers, this makes women with many sons quite rich. In fact, marriage is the single largest industry, by leaps and bounds, within the borders of Tarth and Parthann.
Women hold most government, civil service, and merchant positions among Parthites. Scholarship, artists, and artisans are considered men’s jobs.
There are few sports outside of martial arts (fencing, usually with sabers or scimitars or wrestling) that are widespread in Parth. While healthy and fit, Parthites are an intellectual and contemplative people. Most children know how to read and write by age four. Baskers consider Parthite theater and art "boring."
The one Parthite art that other nations try to replicate is architecture. Parthites have a talent for new and interesting designs that are both decorative and functional. They solve building problems quickly and efficiently. Extremely rich Silkurees and Breggies pay for Parthite designers. However, Parthites, as a rule, do not care for the climate outside of the desert, so the few Parthite architects who will do work there have a long waiting list of potential clients. Bask, being a richer nation, on the whole, has a number of extremely prominent building designed by Parthites.
Parthites are insular, and as a rule they are hesitant to leave their homeland. However, this does not mean they don’t leave. Especially if they are part of an exploration or have an opportunity to do study away from home they will spend a few years in a foreign land.
Parthites are mystified by the differences in religion across the world. As their first approach to religion is debate and argumentation, it often creeps into their discussion when they are foreign lands, even when they know this is not the local custom. This has earned them a reputation for belligerence, particularly in Tyleria, who are fanatics in their own religious customs.
However, Parthites can be found everywhere, though in small numbers, often traveling alone. A scholar of music or folklore may wander with a skald in Bregtoran, or stay at a single inn, studying several skalds. Scholars can be found studying in the fighting schools of Silkur and in the shipyards of Bask. Silkur is often where a Parthite will find the most trouble, not understanding that a Silkuree argument is usually backed up with a knife and is rarely academic.
It is in Bask that Parthites find the most acceptance when not in their own land. Though this is probably true of any nationality visiting Bask. To a Basker, Parthite deliberation is just another opportunity to make money — and their silks don’t hurt the Bask economically.