They were the Iaur. They were descendants of the family of elf gods and gifted with a most beautiful, magical and protected home. The Isle of Saesun. They were guarded over by wise and powerful metallic dragons. They lived in a paradise free from strife or woes. They were innocent. They were children. Then, some of these children left home.
The children discovered evil. A few generations enslaved by the Naryan giants cut these elves off from nature, from whimsy and from innocence. In the hellish crucible of slavery, a blade was forged in the mines by an elven blacksmith. The blade was taken in the hands of the blacksmith's daughter. She used it in her escape from the Golden City, she wielded it in her duel with the Bjergfolk chieftain, and she raised it above her head when she led Bjergfolk back to the Golden City to free her people.
It is said that the blade has no magical qualities and is not beautiful to behold. It is a rather dull and uninspiring weapon. And yet, in the hands of the elven maiden, the blade forged by one in chains, the blade that broke the chains, the blade that freed a nation, the blade became legendary. Today, the blade hangs in the throne room of the Palace of Grand Saeffura on the wall behind the throne itself. The blade is called Chainbreaker.
The blacksmith's daughter became Queen Tytanya.
By allying themselves with the chromatic dragons to form the Tytanyan Pact, the iaurdin have become the most powerful empire in Sublanarya. From the Isle of Saesun in the Northwest to the conquered Thule territories, Albyon, to tropical colonies of Nuar in the South, the high elves ambitious expansion is impressive for such a contentious region. Viewed as invaders by their enemies, rebels sprouting up all along their outer territories, and held in contempt for their practices, the high elves are not well liked by other Sublanaryan factions. Their actions have caused great instability in the geopolitical landscape. And yet, the irony is that, within the borders of this empire, life is more stable than anywhere else in Sublanarya.
While the rest of the land sees them as conquerors, the iaurdin do not see themselves as saviors.
IAURDIN: BENEVOLENT DICTATORS?
The iaurdin were once an innocent and fairly inconsequential race in the grand scheme of Sublanaryan history. They had never experienced slavery, war, torture, famine, tyranny, genocide, racism, sexism, disease, or any other mortal ill of the world. That was taught to them by the other races of the world: being enslaved by giants, betrayed by dwarves, attacked by humans, et cetera, taught the high elves an important lesson. There is much cruelty in the world. And, in their ideology,only through their leadership can this cruelty be overcame. The fact that some people in the world do not want their leadership is moot to the elves. They believe they know what's best for the rest of the world. And to understand this, we must consider more than just elf history but also their biology.
The first thing to know is that most races do not live as long in Narya as they do in the default Dungeons and Dragons settings. I made this chose so that history would flow better, non-humans could be more numerous, and so that individuals with extended lifetimes were far more impressive and unique. In the past, it is known that non-humans lived much longer and the world was far more magical in nature. There can be a lot of speculation about those two facts later. For now, let's consider the elves.
Most high elves have a lifespan of about 400 years with some individuals, like the queen, being practically immortal. Many other races of Narya live comparable lifespans (gnomes & wood elves have a lifespan of 300 and dwarves & bjergfolk putter out at about 200). An expanded lifespan, with which they are eternally young, means that an individual high elf experiences much more in their lifetime than a human and have to be more considerate of the future. While some humans are selfish about considering the future and others wants to make a better world for their children, the elves are concerned with not only the future for others but for themselves. Most humans don't have to think about 100 years ahead. Other races, especially elves, do.
For centuries, they have seen how the short-sighted and selfish actions of others have allowed cruelty and evil to rise up time & time again. Humanity is the dominant race of Sublanarya, in pure population terms, and, therefore, have dictated civilization's progress for millennia in Sublanarya. This has led to countless injustices and wars, allowed hordes of evil creatures to invade and enslave, and worse. Humans cause war, dwarves profit off of the war, gnomes and halflings become victims of war, and wood elves and bjergfolk rarely intervene. Even the metallic dragons fell victim to their own lesser qualities. Constant wars weakened the defensive strength and vigilance of Sublanarya, allowing threats like giants, demons, and beastmen to threaten the lives of millions, and everyone suffered. The iaurdin want to put an end to this cycle of pointless misery.
This new resolution of proactive intervention can be seen in their theology.
The iaurdin worship the entire pantheon of gods but afford special attention to their racial gods, especially Iaur.
Iaur is a god of beauty and magic. He opposes the evil threats against the world, especially the gods of the beastmen, whom he has fought many times, and the subtler enemy representative of corruption, the Spider Queens.
Like Iaur, the elves seek to hunt down and destroy evil in Sublanarya, protect the people, and foster an environment where art, knowledge, and prosperity can flourish. Just as they view Iaur as their father, they view themselves as guardians of the realm. They wish to create a gentler world but know that this means getting their hands dirty.
Sacrifices must be made. And they are more than willing to make them.
Ultimately, the high elves want to conquer all of Sublanarya, if not the world. They seek out power and wealth, not for selfish gain, but to give them the tools to defeat the world's evils and foster a world free of unnecessary suffering. To this end, they will fight until the world falls in line, but do not wish to make the world their slaves. They want everyone to be a citizen in their empire so that they can protect them. In their view, the sacrifice of some liberties in exchange for peace and prosperity for most, if not all, is a small price to pay.
This sounds like the creedo of tyrants throughout history but the elves may have a point about their way being superior to that of Sublanarya's human civilizations: in the empire, men and women are equal citizens. Elsewhere, women are often treated as second class citizens, if not property. Equality among the races is another problem in human civilization: the majority, humans, often discriminate against non-humans. While iaurdin see themselves as a superior race, they oppose intolerance and value other races. All are welcome to become citizens and have the same rights, under the law, as any high elf. Poverty, famine and pestilence are common threats in Sublanarya. Furthermore, feudalism and serfdom are still common. Human nobility often abuse the common people. Meanwhile, in the empire, food, water, and infrastructure are guaranteed within the borders of the empire. The empire promotes industry and economy for all citizens, with no concept of monarchy, despite their immortal queen. Lastly, the empire even provides protection for their citizens abroad. In instances where a citizen is enslaved abroad (slavery being illegal within the empire), the empire has been known to intervene and even resort to military action to free their citizens.
The empire seeks to provide service for its citizens in exchange for their submission. To this end, all high elves take up civil service in one of three factions: military, judiciary, or educational service.
CIVIL SERVICE: FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY
Upon coming of age and completing their basic education, a high elf must take it upon themselves to join one of three branches of mandatory civil service. To do otherwise is considered a great dishonor to one's family and an insult to the queen. Elves serve for as little as a few months to as long as their entire adult life. They serve the empire in one of three ways:
There is one other facet of the empire that is important to consider: the place of other races within the empire. Perhaps no peoples are as important, after elves, to the empire as half-elves. After all, half-elves make up a considerable bulk of the iaurdin military by serving in the Half-Elf Corps.
HALF-ELVES: BRED FOR WAR?
Half-elves are people descended from elves and humans. Some have half-elf parents, some have only one half-elf parent and one human or elf parent, and others are an elf and a human parent. They have been around almost as long as humans and elves have been in contact with one another. In many human societies, they face discrimination while others treat them fairly. Among the iardun, they are traditionally treated with more respect but are always lesser than elves but considered better than humans. In recent years, they've become increasingly common.
This is due to an initiative by the empire to promote population growth. High elves are encouraged to take up human lovers, even if they are married. The latter relationship is called a "second love" and the elf is considered responsible for the well-being of his partner and any offspring they have. It is not unheard of for an iaurdin to have many "second loves" in their lifetimes. This results in more half-elves. Half-elves born of these second loves, given last names like "halfmoon" and "halfblade", are given the same education as their high elf siblings would be given. When they come of age, they are encouraged to join the Half-Elf Corps, the special military branch reserved for half-elves and human volunteers.
Furthermore, the welfare state of the empire provides special care for orphans and often travels abroad to collect them. Within the empire, orphans are raised in group homes called "barracks schools", where they are indoctrinated with patriotic idealogy and often encouraged to join the military or other civil services in later life. These practices have allowed their military to swell well beyond the numbers the high-elves would be able to achieve via normal means.
While the high elves clearly view themselves as a superior race, they also seem to value the other races. Their relationship with the other citizens of their empire is patronizing but, undeniably, beneficial compared to how many races interact elsewhere. This come from a worldview based on how Queen Tytanya sees the high elves separately from the wood elves.
Ultimately, the elves view the world as a dangerous and hostile place. There are cruel enemies, horrible monsters, and catastrophes threatening people every day. The people of the world are generally good but ill-equipped to handle these threats. The elves believe that they are best equipped and, therefore, responsible for dealing with these threats. To ensure a safer world, they demand the world submit to their rule. In their eyes, if they can control the world, they can cultivate and protect it. They can prune dangers from within and weed out dangers from elsewhere. Only under their protection can the world ever become as a beautiful as it should be.
That's one perspective. On the other hand,
1. If the Queen ever dies and/or leadership of the empire ever changes, who is to say the new leaders won't turn the military might of the Tytayan Pact towards evil ends?
2. Allying themselves with the chromatic dragons is an evil act. The practice of sending war and political criminals to slave away in a gulag is evil and unacceptable. How can they justify these acts?
3. Conquering other nations, colonizing them, and forcing them to assimilate to your worldview is evil. Threatening violence, whether through invading or through economic sabotage, is evil.
4. The empire promotes elven superiority and seeks to destroy/belittle/change the traditions, relgions and practices of other races.
5. Peace without liberty is slavery of a different name.
And so on. The empire is force that wants a lawful good world but believe that sometimes lawful evil is necessary to make that happen. In the end, are they good or evil?
They are the powerful empire threatening to conquer and overthrow their neighbors. They look down upon other cultures and patronize their peers. They want to rule the world.
And yet, are they alternatives worse?
The other races loyal to the empire seem to disagree. Gnomes and halflings are more than proud to be members of the empire. Next time, we will discuss the role of gnomes and halflings, the wee folk, in Sublanarya. They are loyal to the empire and have good reasons to be loyal.
Thanks for reading. This article turned out to be quite a doozy.