*********** Warning: Spoiler alert! *************************
In 1959 SY, Arlyn was born in the Dael Vyrnyn where he grew up under the watchful eye of Kandol Elf Lord. Though Arlyn didn’t know it, he was the great-great … great-grandson and last surviving heir of Avara, Queen of Sangrithar, slain centuries earlier by the Angrakoran warlord Korak. Avara’s son, Ardyval, did not burn up in her pavilion as everyone had supposed, he’d been rescued and left on Kandol’ figurative doorstep. The identity of Ardyval’s savior remained a closely guarded secret until the end of days, one known only by Kandol and his wife, Velora. Out of habit and respect, I won’t mention his name, but I will give you a clue – his savior was a one-armed Elf not seen since Sorrow had entered the world. Kandol understood the need to keep Ardyval’s secret better than anyone – secrets were his forte.
In 1966 SY, Gwynndyl, the daughter of Targyl the Priest-King came into the world. Like every heir to the Pearl Throne and according to the ancient promise between Kandol, Thar and Raena, she went to the Dael Vyrnyn at the age of 18 to study with the Elves and learn the Maiden’s rites – the common ones known by all trespassing upon Tar-Numerath, the deeper mysteries reserved for Her priestesses and the faith’s penultimate secret – the path to Ardilun. Upon visiting Pel Aesylle, every heir to the Pearl Throne had spent time in Ardilun, that special fold in the Girdle where earthsong still sang
While studying with the Fair Folk, Gwynndal met an Arlyn ignorant of his true heritage and they became close, very close. Kandol approved, all the moreso because he knew Arlyn’s true identity. Kandol claimed that he’d planned on telling Arlyn, but who really knows? I believed him – partly. I believe that he believed what he told me, but whether that was the truth or what he’d talked himself into, only the Seeress knew. Kandol was not one to easily part with secrets. They were his special sauce and he was loath to give up his recipe. No matter, when Gwnndyl took Arlyn with her to Ardilun, she rendered the question moot. Once Arlyn stepped through the portal, Kandol sensed the Prophecies at work and concluded the secret wasn’t his to share. When the time came for Arlyn to learn the truth, he would. The Balance would see to it.
When the pair arrived, Andis and the Ravirs were waiting anxiously – visits from heirs to the Pearl Throne were the biggest thing going in Ardilun. Gwynndyl, they were expecting, but Arlyn came as a welcome surprise. While there, Gwynndyl and Arlyn consecrated themselves to the Maiden and they studied the old-fashioned way – between the Stones. When Gwynndyl’s training in Ardilun was complete, they returned to Pel Aesylle and then Arlyn left to hunt Skulfs in the Dael Vyrnyn, still in the dark about his true origins. After he left, Gwynndyl discovered that she was with child. She gave birth to a son, Ataryl, nine months later in Tar-Vydael, the home of Kandol Elf Lord.
When Ataryl was six years old, Gwynndyl’s father, Targyl the Priest-King, fell ill and she returned to Sangrithar with Ataryl to care for him. Their reunion was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Targyl was overjoyed to see his daughter again and to meet his grandson. On the other, he was furious that Gwynndyl refused to name Ataryl’s father. The stress of not knowing caused Targyl’s condition to worsen and he died within the year, without ever reconciling with his daughter.
By 2002 SY, Gwynndyl had sat upon the Pearl Throne a decade and Ataryl was growing into a fine young man. He was tall, handsome, and intelligent and met with success in every endeavor. Gwynndyl was proud of him, but her steadfast refusal to disclose his father’s identity didn’t sit well with the nobles. There were rumblings from some noble quarters that having a fatherless bastard on the Pearl Throne just wouldn’t do. Someone else, they argued, ought to have that honor. If she’d been older, or more experienced, she might have squashed those sentiments like a bug under boot, but instead she kept Ataryl close, thinking to shield him. He grew up lonely, with few friends and his closest companion was Maelryn, the Throne’s long time advisor.
That year, an attack from the east caught Sangrithar by surprise. The War of Shadows had begun. Hordes of Dark Ones swept south and west from the Shadowgrim, cutting a path of blood through Endiron and Angrakor before coming into the Oakheart Meadows east of the capitol. The legions made a stand on the grassy plains and after sustaining heavy losses over two tendays of pitched battle, they retreated. The Dark Ones, led by the Shadow Lord, known in earlier age as the Traitor, besieged the capitol.
After battling through the legions, the Dark Ones busted through Gloryngael’s front door. A Maldok, an ancient demon from the Elder Days, preceded the Shadow Lord into Tintammil and confronted Gwynndyl on the Pearl Throne. Wrapped in god-fire, she fought the demon with every ounce of strength she possessed, but the Maldok’s Pit-born sorcery was too much. The shadow engulfed her and she began to falter.
Ataryl watched, helpless to save his mother, and then, just when Gwynndyl was about to fall, a stranger entered Tintammil. His sword dripped with demon ichor and wroth was written on his face. Arlyn had arrived. He knew nothing of his heritage though, he’d come to Sangrithar on the advice of a mysterious one-armed Elf met in the Dael Vyrnyn. He defeated the Maldok, but was mortally wounded in the process. Gwynndyl and he had a moment together before the Shadow Lord entered Tintammil cloaked in swirling darkness and then Arlyn passed from the world.
The Shadow Lord was the worst evil on the face of Sangrar though he hadn’t always been that way. Once upon a time, he’d been a member of the Elder Races, a prince and son of a Secondborn, but he’d let beauty tempt him into love gone wrong. After letting Sorrow enter the world, the Traitor fell utterly to the dark side and following the Battle of Unending Night, was reborn in the Dark Lord’s Breeding Pits as a thing of shadow and evil. After Kandol pulled the world down (initiated in no small way by the Traitor) he fled to the Darkstar with One-Eye and the Erlikarrin to lick his wounds. After a time, he came back to Sangrar and settled in the Shadowgrim to make mischief upon the world.
Gwynndyl stood little chance. Not even god-fire could save her against his ancient evil. The being once known as the Traitor hurled a spell of shadow that engulfed Gwynndyl upon the throne and consumed her. Before Ataryl’s eyes, his mother shriveled into a ball of nothing. Gwynndyl, Priest-Queen of Sangrithar’s light was forever extinguished and the Pearl Throne lay empty. Only Thar’s lightning bolt necklace remained to show that she’d ever been there.
Ataryl could not stand idly by and do nothing. He needed to avenge his mother’s death. He donned the necklace and burst into holy god-fire. In that first moment, when the God-Emperor Ataryl first unleashed his strength, the Shadow Lord knew fear. Hoping to nip this new threat in the bud, he unleashed another spell of shadow like the one that had undone Gwynndyl.
Never has a more momentous spell ever been cast, not in all the annals of Sangrar’s history. Had the spell had struck its intended target, Ataryl might have perished and the line of Thar who was Umbar would have come to an end. But the shadow did not strike Ataryl thanks to the valiant heroics of Maelryn the Vizier. The Elf lord threw himself in front of Ataryl and allowed the deadly shadow dart to strike him instead. With what he thought were his dying words, Maelryn told Ataryl his true lineage, and then lapsed into unconsciousness as the Shadow Lord’s magik overwhelmed him.
I’ve never known how Maelryn knew. Knowing that Arlyn was Ataryl’s father was easy enough to explain – Gwynndyl must have told him – but as for the rest of it, I’m at a loss. Maybe Kandol got word to him, though if he did, he never admitted it to me. Maybe the Seeress alerted him, or maybe he saw the truth in Ataryl’s eyes.
Instinctively, Ataryl called upon his birthright and the god-fire responded like a lover seeking to impress. Recognizing Ataryl as an instrument of Prophecy, the Shadow Lord withdrew, unwilling to face the combined might of Prince and Priestess. Leaderless, the remaining Dark Ones fell quickly to Sangrithar’s legions, order was restored to the empire, and Ataryl was raised to the Pearl Throne, becoming the first God-Emperor and beginning Sangrithar’s Golden Age. Maelryn was hailed as a hero for saving Ataryl.
But the Shadow Lord’s evil work wasn’t finished. The spell he’d cast, the one Maelryn had intercepted, was most fell. Anyone else would have been dead on the spot, but the Vizier was far from ordinary and instead of dying, the shadow corrupted him. No one knew what the Shadow Lord’s spell had done– at first, not even Maelryn himself – but over time, the shadow slowly corrupted him until he was utterly and completely, the Shadow Lord’s, a fact he was careful to conceal.
However much Maelryn was loved for saving the God-Emperor, that’s how much was Emerre was held up to ridicule for staying in Gloryngael’s dungeons during the War of Shadows. Even after eighteen hundred years as the Gloryngael Ghoul, he wasn’t any closer to forgiving himself for failing Avara. Even after learning that her line had survived, that Ataryl was her heir, Emerre couldn’t forgive himself. He stayed in the bowels of Gloryngael, hiding in shame.
After ruling three centuries, Ataryl abdicated, leaving the Pearl Throne and god-fire to his elder son Ardwynn and command of the legions to Halvyl, the younger one. Also, he set a compulsion upon them to always act in Sangrithar’s best interest. For centuries, the compulsion kept the God-Emperor and Lord Warden in lockstep and the empire grew greater. Serving the empire and serving the God-Emperor were one and the same and Ataryl’s intent was lost along the way. By the time of Arvyl’s Folly, the Lord Wardens thought the compulsion demanded obedience to the God-Emperor, not the land.
Even after surrendering Thar’s birthright, Ataryl was still the descendent of Gwynna and Averanda, a living hero embodying both Prince and Priestess, and remarkably long lived. He lasted another seven hundred years, but was wise enough to hide from the public eye after giving up the throne. His heirs couldn’t rule effectively if they were living in his shadow.
While Ataryl lived out his years, shadow accomplished the complete corruption of Maelryn. He mastered the dark arts, but used his power sparingly, fearful that Ataryl would find him out. Not until the First finally passed, did Maelryn finally breathe easier.