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II. Zakhara, the Land of Fate

Zakhara is a world of extremes. Travelers may cross a seemingly endless sea of dunes, cresting wave after wave, and then suddenly find an oasis as lush as any imagined paradise. They may climb snow-capped mountains that soar above 15,000 feet or discover the deadly Pit of the Ghuls, whose murky depths plunge well below the level of the distant sea.


Main areas of civilization in Zakhara: by Tim Martin
Free Cities - A collection of six independent city-states lining the north coast of Zakhara, each located at the mouth of a river. These cities - Hafaya, Liham, Muluk, Qadib, Umara, and Utaqa - have come to operate more independently than others who swear fealty to the Grand Caliph. In fact, the loyalty of the Free Cities (and their rulers) to the Grand Caliph is directly proportional to their distance from the armies of Qudra. With savage tribes to the south, wild pirates to the north, and foreigners filling their streets, the somewhat uncivilized bent of the Free Cities is not surprising. Main products of the Free Cities include clothing, rice, agates, semiprecious stones, pottery, coffee, indigo dye, purple cloth and clothing, and trade in northern goods.

Hiyal - "City of Intrique." About 360 miles northeast of golden Huzuz, at the rim of Suq Bay, lies the gray, industrious city of Hiyal. Set in the low valley of the river Al-Wahl, Hiyal is cloaked in the smoky stench of its foundries and kilns. The shroud seems to nurture the clandestine, for in the city's dark alleys and back rooms the deals of smugglers, thieves, and unscrupulous power brokers are made. The ruler is Sultana Alurah bint Asrah, aged 60 and in ill health. Some consider her a wise and fair ruler, others consider her a dark-hearted schemer. In many ways Hiyal seeks to be a rival of Huzuz on issues of culture, poltics, and economics. This city of 900,000 or so is noted for its crime, pollution, foundries, coal, iron, steel, weaponry, armor, metalwork, slaves, information, and pottery. Hiyal foundries turn out some of the finest weapons in Zakhara. Each year, the mamluks of Qudra commission hundreds of high-quality swords and spearheads from the foundries. Many great weaponsmiths and armorers come to Hiyal to practice thier craft.

Huzuz - "City of Delights." Nestled between the Golden Gulf and Suq Bay, is one of Zakhara's most spectacular cities. Its shimmering spires can be seen for miles across the water, inviting sailors to approach. Here the first Grand Caliph received the vision of the Loregiver, which contained Fate's wisdom and the Law. Today the city is still the seat of the Grand Caliph, the "heart of the heart" of the enlightened lands. Its ruler, Grand Caliph Khalil al-Assad al-Zahir, Master of the Enligthened Throne, Most High Sovereign of the Land of Fate, the Worthy of the Gods, Scourge of the Unbeliever, Confidant of the Genies, is the most powerful man in Zakhara, and with the Emperor of Shou Lung and King Azoun IV of Cormyr is one of the most powerful men on all of Toril. This city over over two million is known far and wide for its beautiful architecture, often called Huzuz the Golden. Its domes and minarets are clad in gold, tile, and inlaid glass, all reflecting the sun. The city postively glows. Notable features include the Palace of the Grand Caliph, the Public Gardens, and the Grand Bazaar. Its Golden Mosque is the object of pilgrimage of most Zakharans. The city is known for its far-ranging merchants, its universities, sages, and textiles. Tourism is also a considerable source of revenue, especially visits to the Grand Mosque and the Court of Enlightenment.

Halwa - "City of Solitude." Located about 200 miles east of Wasat and Suq Bay, is one of the "Cities of the Heart," which are located on the Golden Gulf and close to Huzuz. Halwa is one of Zakhara's few major inland settlements. The city is perched on a lonely bluff overlooking the dry bed of the Wadi Malih, which once a year thanks to melting snow from the Ghost Mountains and seasonal downpours is a surging, muddy torrent. Despite its isloation, Halwa is a bustling little city, serving as a chief trading post between settled Zakharans and the desert-dwellers of the Haunted Lands. Both city and wilderness people mingle on the streets. An underground slave trade is said to flourish here, and Halwa is a stopping place for caravans en route to Hiyal. Similiarliy, adventurers and would-be heroes use the city as a starting place for expeditions into the Haunted Lands. The city is noted for its livestock and durable goods in addition to being a major trading post.

Wasat - "The Middle City." Located at the narrows of Suq Bay, Wasat lies on the major trade route linking Huzuz and Hiyal. Despite its key location, however, Wasat is a rather sleepy town, marked by none of the bustle of the great cities that flank it. The Middle City is but a quanit waystation for ships that travel along this golden route, and its residents are content with their position. The majority of the city's commerce and business activities centers around providing services to traveling merchants.

Qudra - "City of Power." A major power in the northern reaches of Zakhara, the great city of Qudra is ruled by mamluks who are fiercely devoted to the Grand Caliph in Huzuz. Qudra is a model of duty and organization; overlooking the Great Sea about 300 miles northwest of Hiyal, Qudra is Zakhara's bastion against the uncivlized realms beyond. The city's defenses have been built over the course of centuries in response to pirate raids and barbarian incursions. Today, Qudra is the best-fortified city in enlightened Zakhara, presenting a stern gray face to the north. This city is noted for its well run and well treated slave market, its mamluks, amor, and trade in northern goods.

The Corsair Domains - The Corsair Domains, if they can be said to be ruled at all, are the holdings of Zakhara's northern pirates. Typically devoid of central government, the Corsair Domains are a polticial antithesis to the staunch rank and file of Qudra. The Corsair Domains are a collection of small islands connected by shallow coastal waters. They are riddled with hidden bays, small villages, and secret coves. They are also a hive of illegal activity. These domains have no caliph, nor do they recognize a formal hierarchy, though most of the inhabitants consider themselves loyal (in their own way) to the Grand Caliph in Huzuz. In fact, some corsairs (a Zakharan corsair is quite different from a Faerunish corsair - the former is basically a mariner, the latter is a seagoing cavalier) have declared themselves true followers of the Grand Caliph in Huzuz and protectors of the Law of the Loregiver. They regard the natives of Qudra and the Free Cities as spiritually impoverished tyrants who are unfit for rule.

In the absence of a greater ruler, anarchy reigns. Strong and self-reliant, each of the small villages dotting these islands is apower unto itself, usually headed by a retired captain who runs the village with the same resolute iron hand that one would expect from a captain of brigands on the high sea.

The corsairs' main sources of income are smuggling, ship-building, and piracy. Unlike the Nelanther in the Trackless Sea near Amn and the Pirate Isles of old in the Inner Sea, piracy is not the main activity, though it is an important one. Also unlike the two northern versions, there has never been a concerted effort by any great power to sweep through these isles, largely because the corsairs are very useful commercially, as noted above several are loyal to the Grand Caliph, the corsairs have been wise to never seriously threaten or challenge the Grand Caliph or any great city, and the Zakharan mind set is just different - they do not see eradication of any small pirate as a worthy goal, as long as he/she is not a direct threat. Pirates, like sandstorms and disease, are another of the tests of fate and the gods. The corsairs are unique in that they find state-sanctioned slavery abhorrent, perhaps because their main foes are mamluk patrol craft. The average Zakharan sees little wrong with slavery, and even a fair number of slaves see nothing wrong; indeed, the mamluk warrior slaves of the great cities live better and even more free lives than many average Zakharans.

The only sizeable settlement among the Corsair Domains is that of Hawa, "City of Chaos." Seamen who have never seen Hawa know its reputation for chaos, given the pirating bent of its inhabitants. The people of Hawa have also dubbed it the City of Silts, for nearly half its buildings are built directy over the water.

The Pearl Cities - The Pearl Cities line a coast bordering the Crowded Sea and the western shores of the Golden Gulf, tucked between the cool, shimmering waves and the hot sands of the High Desert. These cities - Ajayib, Gana, Jumlat, Silkak, and Tajar - are among the wealthiest in the Land of Fate. Only Jumlat and Gana actually produce pearls, but all maintain a rich trade in these objects of beauty, as well as in frankincense, myrrh, coffee, valuable metals, spices, fine fish, woods, and exotic ware from faraway lands. Trade, in fact, is the second law of the people of the Pearl. Frequently it gives the true Law, that of the Loregiver, strong competition. Lending institutions and speculative ventures are common. So are usurious loans and unseen charges. A traveler in the lands of the Pearl should remember that nothing is truly free and heed this rule of conduct: Ask questions first, haggle second, and buy last.

The Pearl Cities contain both some of the wealthiest Zakharans and some of the poorest. The richest live in luxurious pavilions and palatial manors dot the surrounding countryside. The poorest are the beggars and exploited workers, who far outnumber the rich. As a group, the people of the Pearl Cities are proud, almost haugthy, and easily insulted. In the eyes of Pantheists, the gaudy peacocks of the Pearl Cities are little more than decadent lwa-breakers who have forgotten the nature and spirit of the Loregiver's Law.

The Cities of the Pantheon - The League of the Pantheon, or the Pantheist League, is a cluster of cities on the Crowded Sea and along the eastern side of the Golden Gulf, backed by the mountain ranges of Al-Akara and Al-Sayaj. These cities share a common outlook above and beyond that of other cities paying ultimate creed to the Grand Caliph. Pantheists recognize only five gods; Hajama, Kor, Najm, Selan, and a local deity named Jauhar (whom Pantheists consider a major god). Within these cities - Fahhas, Hilm, Hudid, I'tiraf, Mahabba, and Talab - the worship of other gods is forbidden. According to Pantheists, only the five deities of the Pantheon (there are other Zakharan deities worshipped in other cities) deserve the worship of civilized men and women. These are the gods whose priests first swore allegiance to the Law of the Loregiver. All other deities are "latecomers." This conservative religious belief is the force that binds the Pantheist cities into a cohesive whole - into a refuge for "those who know the truly enligthened gods."

Politics and religion are tightly interwoven in the Pantheist League. The church is powerful, and secular leaders are often religious leaders as well. Stauncly moralist, Pantheists are almost hidebound in their traditional values. The traditions of the past guide their actions in the future. That which is new is deemed dangerous, and that which is different is suscipious. Both men and women cover their faces in public and conceal the shape of their bodies beneath billowing robes, lest the sight of the opposite sex cause anyone's thoughts to stray from the moral path. Apparently, this system works well for the Pantheist League cities, for they are successful and prosperous. Unlike the Free Cities of Northern Zakhara, the closely knit Pantheist communties are not hindered by contiunal efforts to conspire against each other in petty wars. And unlike the Pearl Cities, the cities of the Pantheon have fewer beggars and impoversihed citizens on their streets.

The Pantheist League does engage in trade, but much of that trade may be need to be done through intermediaries. Among the products that attract outside attention are the crystal and glassware available in I'tiraf, glass lenses, telescopes, and books found in Hudid, and the fine medical knowledge to be had in Talab.

Ruined Kingdoms - Cities built upon the ruins of the ancient Nog and Kadar empires, they are home to a mixed bag of petty tyrants. Some of these tyrants seek to rule with the blessing of Huzuz. Others seek to regain the glories of their predessors - savage rulers from a distant and long-buried past The politics of this land is often the subject of Huzuz, Hiyal, Pantheon, and Afyal meddling. Before the great war 4000 years ago, involving the genies, Orcgate orcs, and the Lapaliiyans, this region of mighty river valleys, forests, and desert was home to the kingdoms of Nog and Kadar. All that remains from those ancient civilizations are crumbling ruins, tombs of forgotten rulers, and temples of lost gods. In this vast, relatively unexplored, and very wild corner of Zakhara three major cities are found, all in the southeastern quarter - Rog'osto, Kadarasto, and Dihiliz (the only one not built on the ruins of old capitals).

Dihiliz is located on a broad plateau about 50 miles up the mighty Nogaro River. Dubbed the Gateway City, it is a popular debarkation point for those seeking fortune and high adventure in the Ruined Kingdoms of the continent. It also serves as a major trading center between the inland towns and the civlized world. Dihiliz is very much a frontier town, located on the edges of Zakharan civlization. It is the clearing house for goods looted from the ruins of Nog and Kadar. In theory, each ruin or site of treasures is registered with the Ministry of Secrets, and the treasure removed under the auspices of the Ministry of Riches. In reality, plunder flows freely from the Ruined Kingdoms as the Nogaro River itself. Aside from antiquites (and corruption), the main products of Dihliz are rice and serving as a trading point to and around the Pantheon cities.

By following the Nogaro River about 100 miles indland from Dihliz, a traveler reaches the sinister city of Kadarasto. It is said to be an anceint, alien-looking place, perched upon the bluff overlooking the river . The city's architecutre - heavy, angular, and depressing - is unique in the Land of Fate. Some sages believe Kadarasto was once the capital of Kadar, though it is not known for sure. Most of the populace is believed to derive its income from rice and more notably the antiquites trade - i.e. tomb robbing. Even less well known to Faerun is Rog'osto, "City of Spires." Located over 300 miles up the Nogaro River, the city is famed forts its unique metal towers soaring toward the sky, gleaming in the sun. It is believed that this was once the site of the captial of Nog.

Afyal - "The Isle of the Elephant." Afyal, the island kingdom dominated by this city, is one of the Enligthened Throne's most distant outposts. It is also among the most prosperous. Located north of Sahu Island, the Isle of the Elephant is a convenient stop for traders from distant Kara-tur and Bharata. This island is also blessed with great natural resources - including precious metals, spices, valuable gemstones, and exotic hardwoods. As a result, its capital, the City of the Elephant, enjoys a richness that rivals that of Huzuz itself. Unlike much of Zakhara (outside the Ruined Kingdoms), the island of Afyal is verdant and wild, with rolling hills and thick jungles, which are untamed outside the capital city. Wild creatures - lions, elephants, tigers - lurk in the wilderness, virtually at the City of the Elephant's door.

The capital, the only real city on Afyal, is beyond compare. While lacking the blue tilework of most Zakharan cities, it is impressive due to liberal use of polished marble and gleaming hardwoods. Perhaps due to strong influence from Bharata and southeast Kara-Tur, a rigid caste system prevails here on this island. While the concepts of station and honor are important throughout the Land of Fate, they extremely strong on the Isle of the Elephant. The elephants of Afyal are particularly intelligent and docile, able to learn and perform tasks willingly and with ease. By decress of the island's first padishah, Alon, no one may kill an elephant of Afyal without sacrificing his or her own life in return.

Harab - "Isle of War." Large island of the Crowded Sea region, south of the Pantheist League. This island domain is war torn, as rival corsair groups battle it out for domination. Rumor has it that the various powers of Zakhara - Huzuz, Qudra, Hiyal, the Pantheist League, Afyal - each have their own chosen "client." Foreign travellers and merchants often steer clear of Harab.

Bariya - "The Wild Isle." Very large island in the southeast region of the Crowded Sea. Mostly unsettled, this huge island is on the very fringes of Zakharan control and interests. There is one small community, Jawwaffa, and it is lawful as any in Crowded Sea; which it is to say it isn't. Still ships do make it a port of call, as the deep tropical forests of Bariya produce pine, teak, walnut, and many other types of wood, as well as coconuts and small amounts of locally grown coffee.

Sahu - "The Isle of Serenity." Large island in the Crowded Sea to the southwest of Afyal. This island is every bit the opposite of Harab. Caliph Al-Araniah maintains a small kingdom as a sanctuary for people throughout Zakhara; people fleeing oppresion, escaped slaves, escapees from blood feuds are all welcome. However, once there they must agree to not pursue their old concerns and contribute to the island's welfare and defense. His small but well-trained navy serve to change undue interests on the part of local pirates or the local powers.

Islands of the Crowded Sea - Afyal is by far the most well known of the many islands in and around the Crowded Sea. Several others were visited by the Swallow, Dolphin, and Eagle. The Steaming Isles are located in the southeast, are very unusual. This island chain, southernmost island chain of the Crowded Sea, is a region of sub-tropical rain forest and is made up of six islands; Nimr (Tiger), Sunn (Swallow), Hayyat (Snake), Gazal (Gazelle), Baz (Hawk), and Jaqal (Jackal).

Apparently, the Steaming Isles were given to the animals in some prehistoric age - theirs to rule. With it the animals were given the powers of speech and comprehension, although this capacity varies from creature to creature. Their society is modeled after those of the Enlightened Lands (Zakahara).At the same time, they are still animals. There is no change in their physical appearance or general habits. The animals do not build palaces, wear clothes, or fashion weapons. Each island is ruled by a shah of the same species as that island's name Ruling over all the animals is Padishah Jaqal (Jackal). The strange Steaming Isles are rarely visited by outsiders.

The Djinni's Claws are located to the west of the Steaming Isles. Barely explored and completely unsettled, this chain has few individually named islands. These mountainous islands of dense jungle are dreaded as the home of pirates, genies, and monsters. Nada al-Hazan is a chain of relatively well-explored and moderately settled islands that rise in bare orcky prominences above the sea, many miles north of the Steaming Isles. Well known to mariners of the Crowded Sea, the chain is sometimes known as the Silver Road since it is an important way station of the sea lanes. The main settlement is Masud Jazayir, the farthest outpost of Zakharan civlization in the Crowded Sea. This small coastal settlement has begun to export almonds, seaseme seeds, dates, sugar cane, garpes, pomegranates, citrons, figs, and cotton. However, owing to its distance from the great cities of the Land of Fate and the fact that many of the islanders descended from outlaws, rebels, and malcontents seeking to escape the relatively rigid law of the mainland city-states, it can be a lawless place.

Other islands of the chain are either unsettled and avoided due to pirates, monsters, or horrible sea creatures in nearby waters. The last major archipelago is the crab-shaped island chain known as Al-Sartan. Poorly explored and completely unsettled by enlightened Zakharans, it is the home to a large number of ogres and ogre magi. Even the waters are avoided due the strange crab-like monsters.

The Desert Tribes - There are two great deserts in the Burning World of the Land of Fate, the High Desert and the Haunted Lands. These regions are home to tribes that are the classic desert raiders, nomads who have no use for cities. What trade any non-Zakharans ( and indeed most Zakahrans) conducts with them will be when the tribes themselves chose to arrive in cities such as Halwa. The names of these tribes are strange to western ears, and their ways inscrutable. It is believed that nine tribes call the High Desert home, with names like Children of the Lion and Clan of the Young Camel (roughly translanted). The Haunted Lands are even less well known, a land home to ghosts and mournful winds, but it is believed by westerners that two very large tribes call this vast and uncharted region home.

2000 - 2004 Jonathan E. Bauder. All rights reserved by owners.