The Holy Land lies in a rough band between the shiftless deserts and hard plains of Tsukhardan and Gheshpa to the north (eventually shifting into the cool, mountainous lands of the Aspect-Emperors of Tekne) and the wet, blazing jungles of the south. The Holy Land is a region of hard hills and rough country, nearly desert in itself. The lands from the Yanjjatek on the edge of empty Gheshpa down to the River Haiyam in the south belonged to the Tekneani long ago during their Golden Age, and then to the brief Despotate of Meru, and then to the Qoruxi lords of the Keddeh-numi dynasty until the first Holy War; now they are held (tenuously, and in a state of constant conflict) by Meixingu crusaders, centered in and around the Holy City of Meru.
But south of the Haiyam, on the coast of the Central Sea, in the hot and steaming U’dem-land, there lies Arshii’j Daru, capitol of the Daruni people, a powerful and staunch Qoruxi people.
History of the Daruni Lands
Though the Meixingu Holy War invaders were not successful in defeating the Daruni during their campaign, they are by no means the only invaders into that ancient land. Far, far back, in the time of legend and folk memory, the U’dem-land and the surrounding jungles (again, with an excepted border of the River Haiyam) were ruled by the pagan U’demsem, who left their mark on the land with their hundreds of pyramidal temple-complexes, now crumbling into ruin (Meixingu marveled at the similarity of U’demsem ruins to their own ziggurats; many took it as a sign of more ancient Meixingu roots in this land, though that is erroneous). But the U’demsem reign crumbled in civil war after successive generations of priest-kings concerned only with blood-sacrafice and the construction of larger and more grandiose temples.
The collapse of the U’demsem infrastructure allowed the black-skinned, nomad Aidar to sweep in, smashing the rule of the priest-kings, establishing a capitol at F’aira, and taking the people of the region under their rule in what is now called the Time of the Blacks. While they are often regarded as bloodthirsty pagan barbarians (due, in part, to racism on the part of the lighter-skinned Daruni), the Aidar in fact did much to restructure and strengthen the weak Daruni state of the period. But the Aidar kings were warriors at heart, and wrote their dynasty’s downfall by attempting to invade the lands north of the River Haiyam, which, at that time, were the possessions of the Tekneani Empire. In a brief but bloody campaign, the Aidar pressed as far as Shekkar (the famously libertine and hedonistic; in the Xoriat it is called “the Whore of Kirena”), where they met with the awesome might of the Columns of Tekne, with their endless lines of footsoldiers and the undefeatable cataphracts (at this time, the Tekneani had not yet been defeated in battle by any force from what is now the Telae hr Meixi to the Holy Land, and ruled a crescent-shaped empire which encompassed most of the Central Sea). In the climactic Battle of Lardeq Gate, almost the entirety of the Aidar warrior-nobility was exterminated, and the Aidar-Daru state collapsed almost overnight.
Flowing into the gap came the Eyakti kings. Eyakti I was a native-born Daruni, and before his elevation, a common farmer. The Eyakti dynasty’s rise was orchestrated mainly by the priesthood (which at this time followed a syncretic religion blending ancient pagan Daruni gods and those of the Tekneani), and the period of the Eyakti was marked by an increase in the welfare of the common people and the promotion of religion, but with very little in the way of military or economic power. During the dynasty, the capitol was moved from F’aira to H’beq, and then to the former holy site of Rui’yakki, several miles south of Arshii’j Daru.
By the end of the Eyakti dynasty, 2 years before the ascension of the Prophet, a new power was evident to the north- the followers of the Banner of Heaven, Meixi’s people, who, in the short Four-Day Rebellion, had managed to do what no other force (with the exception of the mysterious Northern Barbarians who had swept through Tekne’s outer provinces 40 years previously) had done- defeat the Tekneani in open battle (The Four-Day Rebellion effectively spelled the end of Tekneani power in the Holy Land). However, Meixi himself declared that peace would reign beneath the Banner of Heaven, and ruled over the brief Banner State, which remained under constant attack from the north by the Tekneani. In the Year of the Ascension, the Banner State broke, but the Tekneani armies withdrew to the northern provinces, recalled to prevent a building civil war in the Hwaralis Succession Crisis. The chaos and anarchy of the Holy Land caused thousands of new Meixingu to sweep southward. Daruni was conquered, initiating the short-lived Daruni Banner State, during which Ataxaa, ruler of the state, decreed the construction of a new capitol at what was then called Shi’j Harbor (he found Rui’yaaki to be an “unhealthful and terrible place, like most of these lands, too wet; the Prophet himself would complain.”). This construction would soon blossom into what is now Arshii’j Daru.
Within ten years, the Daruni Banner State fell apart. Even the religious passions of the Meixingu were unable to keep it together. Most of the Prophet-followers withdrew north of the Haiyam to dwell in the newly-established Despotate of Meru. The Daru lands fell into a long period of anarchy, dubbed the City-State Period, during which Arshii’j Daru grew into a powerful city, aided by the ties it had to the Meixingu state.
In 235, the Despotate of Meru consumed in the fires of the Qoruxi Expansion- out of the mountains of the west came the followers of the All-Seeing Eye, filled with blazing piety and warlike fervor not seen since the time of the Four-Day Rebellion. As the All-Seeing Eye claimed to have taken the wisdom of the Prophet and expanded into the “Greater Truths” of the Qoruxi religion, the Despotate’s ruling council decried the Qoruxi invaders as heretics and bloodthirsty killers; but it was too late, and Meru fell. Within one-hundred years, the All-Seeing Eye’s Greater Truth spread north throughout the Holy Land, north into Tsukhardan, Gheshpa, Laikkuri, Hoxiu, and the western borders of the reduced Tekneani Empire. It was not long before the Qoruxi made the fateful decision to cross the River Haiyam. Smashing into the anarchic and squabbling states of the U’dem-land, they absorbed the remaining Meixingu states and exterminated those remaining pockets of pagan religions. Some of the resisting cities and peoples were utterly destroyed, in typical early Qoruxi fashion. It is said that at the seige of Firra (earlier the capitol city of F’aira), Rorush, the Qoruxi general, declared that “no stone would be left atop another stone; and all that the pagans made will be swallowed by holy fire, under the Eye of Heaven” (To this day, the area around the ruins of Firra is a desolate and charred hole in the surrounding jungle).
But soon, the Qoruxi fervor cooled, and they began the process of rebuilding and syncretizing a new Daruni state. Within 50 years, the new Qoruxi state of the Daru, centered at Arshii’j Daru, had adapted the hoary and ancestral “work-group” agricultural system of the older Eyakti state into a highly efficient system of growing food, providing sustenance for the rapidly-expanding towns of the U’dem-land, centered around the beautiful capitol. Within another 50, the Daruni were a fully-integrated Qoruxi people.
Arshii’j Daru represents the limit of the Holy War’s southward advance- the Meixingu invaders’ motivation was low once they had taken Meru (in the last month of 877). In addition, both Prince Gaidekki and Duke Jjataki, the leaders and heroes of the War, were stricken with hemoplectic fever, a disease which scythed through the Holy War’s ranks in that hot and wet land. When Jjataki recovered (Gaidekki died after a collapsed assault on the Daruni citadel of Mount H’beq in 878), he declared that the Holy War had achieved it’s stated aims in recovering the Holy Land and Holy City from the infidels, and that the armies of the Meixingu were to withdraw behind the River Haiyam, out of the Daruni lands (though after the pull-out, many bands of marauding Meixingu knights and soldiers remained to pillage northern Daruni cities). Django, the Constable of Meru, has often said, in typically brusque and straightforward manner, that “it is too hot and wet to fight in Daru-land”.
The Daruni State
The capitol of the Daru remains Arshii’j Daru, now a bustling city of 780,000. It is one of the mightiest cities outside of the Holy Land (whose towns are now practically fortresses after centuries of warfare). A bustling port, it is the main point of trade between Tekne in the north (it is the final southern stop for Tekne trade fleets) and the distant southern lands about which little is known. The ruler of the Daruni lands is currently Daqa-I the Third, King of the Daruni, called er-Qoruxidai (the “most heavenly”).
The main cities of Daru, besides the capitol, are Hyeqer, Rui’yaaki, Tusan’j, and Yaateh-Firra (“Second Firra”). The nation is mainly agricultural- large areas of communal farmland amidst high, jungle ridges. Most of the population lives through farming; distribution of crops is facilitated by government granaries in each sub-province.
While Daru’s soldiery is not it’s strong point (the majority of the force lies dormant in the form of bond-troops accessible to the government by levy-orders), it is known for it’s excellent ranger and scout forces (centuries in the jungle can do that for you), and the northern regions along the River Haiyam have a long tradition of cavalry (a holdover from the ancient Aidar state; the Aidar settled particularly thickly here, and northern Daruni have darker skin than most). The Daru navy is small but quick; in a recent, short naval war against Meixingu pirates in the Laibaya Islands, their rapid boats destroyed the heavily-armed Meixingu ships.
Slavery is common in Daru, almost more common than among the Tekneani. Most of the slaves of Daruni are captured savages of the south; others are Meixingu and Holy Land Qoruxi who are foolish enough to raid Daru.
Daruni are staunchly Qoruxi. The sign of the All-Seeing Eye is everywhere in Daru; it is common to say that a Daru child knows his priest better than his father. This is saying a lot; Daruni parents are atypical of the Qoruxi norm in that their children are kept very close (most people regard Daruni children as spoiled).
Cuisine of Daru is spicy and generally served as hot as possible; the most common drink is spiced resin-wine.
Adventure in Daru
Daruni are unfriendly to adventurers and strangers alike, who are regarded as bringing bad luck. While most in Daru are accepting of outside cultures, keeping their motley history in mind, travelers are usually regarded as being dirty, disease-carrying, and trouble-making; most Daruni never leave the village of their birth.
The wilderness along the River Haiyam is a site of much adventure- there are many old forts, abandoned fortifications, and ancient catacombs along this much fortified region that have become the home for bandits, brigands, and beasts (rumours tell of the Haiyam Boar, with bristles of iron, which has rampaged through the area unstoppable). Recently, Meixingu knights and warriors have seeped southward across the river to raid the northern towns; in addition, it is rumored that the dark cult of the Sarkukai have appeared.
In the southerly jungles there remain the temples and ancient ruins of the U’demsem and later structures of the Aidar; these abandoned places, largely deserted and vastly separated from the nearest villages (Daru regard them with superstition as places of foul spirits), become home to dark things and remnants of ancient U’demsem magic, as well as more worldly brigands and beasts of the jungles. Southern barbarians and strange folk of the Farther South sometimes rove into these places.