From afar, the seawalls of Randan glisten like mother-of-pearl. Every brick is glazed with fabulous images of monsters and gods in a hundred colors. In the city markets, stinking of fish and cinnamon and foundry-smoke, one can distinguish the native Randanese by their garments’ rich hues—even common folk wear linen ablaze with madder, saffron and indigo, while their betters don rainbow silks flashing with jeweled embroidery. And as soldiers parade before the craft-lodges of the aristocracy, their leaders stand resplendent in armor of brocade as resilient as bronze or coats of ceramic plates as hard as steel, their masked helmets shining with silver, gold and gems.
Randan is ruled by hereditary lodges of artisans, each practicing a different craft. Artificers study the mysteries of their trades alongside the arts of war. Only those who master both martial and craft skills ascend into the ranks of the pekumi—the warrior caste that commands both the lodges and the state.
Randan’s reputation comes from the quality of pekumi masterworks. Artisan-nobles incorporate thaumaturgy into their greatest creations to manufacture perfectly clear glass, indelible dyes, swords that never dull and bronze armor light as silk. But the pekumi create too few masterworks to support Randan’s economy, and too few nobles master their crafts to fill out the officer corps’ ranks. Most of the nation’s real wealth comes from commerce. Randanese merchants—their ships carved with talismanic signs and hung with unbreakable sails—obtain hardwoods, incense, dyes, ivory and spices amid the farthest Western archipelagoes through trade, slave labor and plunder. But mercantile rivals and increasing pirate activity are cutting into Randan’s profits. The island state is in a slow decline—and in the path of the Realm’s expansion.
Still, the Randanese have hope for the future. They place their trust in their leaders, even as the pekumi are distracted by offers to join the Guild, campaigns against nearby Lintha strongholds and intrigues to see which lodge will ascend after the death of their aging queen Dove White Sky. They place their trust in their gods, even as the war-gods and craft-gods continue a centuries-long feud. And they place their trust in their three great mystic treasures, not understanding those treasures are themselves a source of peril—that their theft or destruction will open the way for the return of the demon queens of old.
The Demon Queens
Ages ago, three demons—Lanthild, Shaper of the Mind’s Clay; Berengiere, the Weaver of Voices; and Alveua, Keeper of the Forge of Night—held the village of Randan in thrall. The people were helpless before the whims of the queens until three women stepped forward to confront them. “You claim that we are yours to toy with because we are not your equals,” the women said. “But we say that we can match your gifts and your strengths.” So they challenged the demons to a contest, wagering against Randan’s freedom.
The demons laughed. What mortal could put dreams in a jar, or weave voices into fabric, or bind a soul into a blade? They accepted, seeing no harm in the jest.
Seven days passed before the first woman, a potter, brought a jug to Lanthild. “This is my best work,” she said, “for as I threw it and turned it and fired it, I knew that all I love depended on my success. All my dreams are in this jug, for if it should fail, all my hopes fail with it.” And Lanthild cursed, for she knew she had lost.
Fourteen days passed before the second woman, a weaver, brought a tapestry to Berengiere. She could not speak, so she drew her message in the sand. This is my best work, she wrote, for as I spun it and wove it and embroidered it, I sang the songs of my people until my throat was raw, and then I sang further until my throat was a mass of scars. I have given my voice to my tapestry, for I can never speak again. And Berengiere cursed, for she knew she had lost.
Twenty-one days passed, and the third woman, a blacksmith, did not come forth. Instead, her daughter brought a sword to Alveua. “This is my mother’s best work,” she said, “for as she heated it and hammered it and quenched it, she neither ate nor drank nor slept, giving all she had to her craft. And as she finished the blade, she died. She has given her soul to the sword.” And Alveua cursed, for she knew she had lost.
Since then, no demon has held sway in Randan. And the potter, the weaver and the blacksmith were praised above all others, and their daughters were named chiefs of the village. It is for this reason that artisans now rule in Randan.