The Six Kingdoms

Copyright Roberto Suarez Soto © 2007

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"The orcs are a new tool in the dwarves' hands"

The Crosses and the Crosslords

The Six Kingdoms are six worlds linked by what their inhabitants call "crosses"; and also "star-doors", and "world-gates", and "crossroads". The crosses are platforms formed by four tiles, two of them black and two of them white, like a checkerboard. They are in little hills surrounded by the "cross field", a circular depression of about two hundred feet across. Little polished round stones of greenish colour can be found in these depressions, and are called "cross beads".

In the history of the Six Kingdoms, the first to master the use of the crosses were a race called the Crosslords. They were a powerful and mysterious race of mage-scientists, immortal but unable to bear children; and all they looked the same, like a thousand reflections of the same image. They settled in the Six Kingdoms and soon ruled over their primitive inhabitants ("wildings", they called them), the humans; first by teaching and counseling, then taking control when humans didn't do what the Crosslords thought was better for them. Crosslords were seekers of perfection, working hard to achieve it and not letting anyone or anything stop them. Thinking education could go only so far, they took unto themselves the job of perfecting the human race ... whatever it took.

Crosslords didn't have slave camps; they had "breeding grounds". They bred humans selectively, like cattle, culling the "herds" as they pleased in the name of perfection. They interchanged studs and cows that were known to have "suitable" children. For one thousand generations they carried on this project.. New words would have to be invented to describe the atrocities they committed.

The product of all their "work" were the Kálaksi, whom the Crosslords thought were "perfected humans". To the rest of the Six Kingdoms, they were known as "elves", and hated as much as their masters, their beautiful image a constant memory of the pain that was involved in their birth.

The Bjor and the Nimnali betrayal

The Kálaksi learned from their masters to work the crosses, but another race succeeded before them: the Nimnali, whom humans now call "gnomes". The Crosslords despised them, because they thought they were like small aged humans; but the Nimnali were gifted, and could work the crosses more deftly than any other race. The Crosslords progressively did less and less crossworking themselves, relying on the Nimnali. The birth of the Kálaksi meant the end of the favour of the Nimnali, and they were displaced. Following several grave affronts by the proud Kálaksi that were openly allowed by their masters, the Nimnali rebelled and betrayed the Crosslords. They opened the gates to the Jacheri Bjor, a big insectoid race of priest-warriors that waged war upon the unsuspecting Crosslords and their Kálaksi, aided by an alliance of many human tribes. The allies won, killing almost all of the Crosslords and the Kálaksi.

A long status-quo ensued after that. The few remaining Crosslords used guerrilla tactics to harass the Bjor who themselves warred with their previous allies, the humans. The Bjor had not respected their part of the deal, demanding tribute and claiming for themselves lands that had been assigned to the wildings.

This war eroded both sides. The Kálaksi were bred incessantly to provide new soldiers for the Crosslords, the sons sent to battle as soon as they could raise a spear, the daughters condemned to early and frequent childbearing. Realizing their fate was doomed to be the tools in the war of the Crosslords, many deserted and became renegades, hiding where no one could find them, hated and hunted equally by their masters and by their enemies.

Meanwhile a race of slaves that the Bjor had brought from their own world, excellent masons, smiths, miners and artisans, first earned new privileges for their services as soldiers and, after many lost battles due to their masters' suicidal tactics, rebelled. They were the dwarves.

The rise of the Dwarves

The end of the war came with the Blight, a mysterious disease that affected only the Bjor. Interpreting it as a curse from their gods, the Bjor that didn't die returned to their home world. The Six Kingdoms, already on the brink of chaos, erupted with strife. A thousand petty wars ensued among humans, both wildings and former crosslord breeds, as kings, emperors and other self-proclaimed rulers rose and fell; the dwarves shut themselves in their strongholds to ride out the storm; the Kálaksi looked for shelters free of Crosslord revenge and human hate; and the Nimnali tried to survive without the aid of a strong ally.

Peace was established by unexpected means. The Nimnali offered their services to the dwarves, allowing them to reunite the clans that the Bjor had dispersed when they had enslaved and dispersed the dwarves across their settlements in the Six Kingdoms. Aided by the Crosses, the dwarves coalesced into a strong mass; soon they not only defended themselves, but also their kin in other parts of the Six Kingdoms. Defense gave way to offense, expanding their lands for food and wealth. Little kingdoms went to them asking for protection in exchange of tribute. The dwarves formed the M'ranich Tzarb, the "council of elders" of the dwarven clans, and it became the effective ruler of the Six Kingdoms.

Present times

The dwarves are the upper echelon in the pyramid of power. At their side, the Nimnali have become dutiful counsellors, scribes, and even priests of a new religion. Below them, many humans serve willingly the Tzarb, some of them so faithfully that they are highly trusted by their masters. Some work for the dwarves because they have the power and the money. Some try to ignore them, something more difficult with each year that passes. And a few fight them, even if their hope is meager, using their organisation and strength to counter the Tzarb military in their homelands. The Kálaksi and the dwarves are still enemies, as a whole: dwarven legions fought against elven armies during the war, and that is neither forgiven nor forgotten. But here and there, elves and dwarves sometimes find a niche where they can profit both sides; always unofficially, of course. The Nimnali are set on erasing all trace of the Kálaksi - the Kálaksi will do whatever is possible to annoy them and spoil their plans; for besides their mutual hatred, the elves are the other only known race in the Six Kingdoms that can work the crosses.. The elves know that the Nimnali are untouchable under the dwarves' shields, they are long lived, and patient. They are waiting their time.

Two concerns have arisen recently within the Tzarb. The years of peace and plenty have, according to some, softened them. A generation of decadents are coming of age who are uninterested in the ways of war, unlike their fathers and grandfathers, but in high living and spending. They prefer fine wines, good clothes and new sights (and pretty human women, some would add). More open and amiable than their forebears, these "lazy youngsters" are the shame of many dwarven families. Additionally the traditional faith of the dwarves, the worship of ancestors and the Sun God, is now being eroded by an alien belief, championed by the Nimnali. They always had their own culture, but now this religion is spreading out of them like too much milk inside a bucket too small, and staining the austere dwarven faith with devotees and sacrifices, priests and temples. Besides gullible youths, older dwarves are joining the New Faith. They are yet few, but it has already divided the clans into those who would see the New Faith banned and those who would tolerate it. Something's brewing, and many think it forebodes ill for the dwarves.

The war of Sutharja

The dwarves "losing their edge" wouldn't be such a problem if there wasn't a war being waged. In Sutharja, one of the Six Kingdoms, one of the strongest human empires rebelled against the Tzarb. The Tzarb's fist hit them hard, but not enough. After the first strike, the empire was fractured and its forces diminished. But the war didn't end, and the invasion of dwarven armies was compensated by hundreds of humans (and if the rumors are true), even groups of Kálaksi who earned the friendship of the sutharjans) from every other world in the Six Kingdoms. The Nimnali proposed a grim solution that wouldn't have even been considered save out of necessity and to counter the growing influence of the "decadents" in the council: use a race of primitive but strong and numerous fighters from a world nearby. Enter the orcs.

The various tribes of orcs are the Tzarb's nasty cannon fodder. They live on whatever they find on the war grounds, making them extremely cheap. They breed quickly ("incessantly", was the word used by one dwarven general), and fight like mad. Many voices were raised among the dwarves against them, but the end justifies the means. Now dwarven and dwarven-loyal officials have hordes of orcs in their service, that they use as scouts and throw with abandon against the sutharjans. The orcs are a new tool in the dwarves' hands, and its real effect on the war is yet to be seen.