The City of Felarin
"Ya want me to take you where? Felarin? Are ya daft? Which would ya rather... wander around that damned ghost wood until we starve, or take a boat and 'ave the spirits pull us inta the water to warm them up? No thanks. Ya want to go pokin' around in that accursed city, you find somebody else to show you the way." - Jarn Paldash, Ertainian scout
"Ah, the folk of Felarin aren't so bad - once you can get past all the mumbling and having the wipe the guano off your hand after every handshake. You have to be careful, though... the religious types don't tip very well." - Altis Ylsvin, a.k.a. 'Wayward Al', Corian bard
In sparsely-settled northeast Ertain, just north of the Thrace River, nestled near the shores of Lake Haven, lies a city like none other in Antaron - Felarin, the center of magical learning in all the land.
The White City, as it is sometimes referred to due to its unique white stone streets, is relatively young, despite being among the most important settlements in civilized society. The city was founded in the latter part of the fourth century by Tharandul Graystave, an Ertainian mage who was given a parcel of land, along with a minor baronial title, as a reward for exceptional service to the crown. As talented mages often do, Tharandul constructed a tower on his land to serve as his personal stronghold. Unlike the typical mage, however, he had a vision - that of a community where magic users of every stripe could come to share knowledge, safe from interference from the outside world.
Some sixty years later, Tharandul's vision has been realized on a truly grand scale. In the handful of decades since the construction of that first tower, the city has grown dramatically, and is now home to magic users of every discipline, as well as to temples and shrines to virtually every deity worshipped in Audalis. In addition, the only organized Academy of Magic exists here, along with the Library of Felarin - an unparalleled repository of knowledge both arcane and mundane.
City Information: Designed as it was to be a home to subjects that common people find unfathomable and even frightening, Felarin is by necessity isolated from the outside world. The overland routes from the south and west are completely obstructed by the enchanted Felarin Wood, which, according to common knowledge, can only be passed by those who do harbor any hatred of magic. Enchanted some time after a major crunaik raid in 412 E.R., the wood stands as a near-impenetrable barrier to those who would do the city harm. Tales abound of travelers who wander, lost, for days within this wood, and never reach the other side - or are never heard from again. In any case, the wood itself is completely silent; no birdcalls are heard within its limits, the insects make no sound, even the wind itself does not seem to rustle the branches and leaves.
To the north and east lie the waters of Lake Haven and the Suni River that feeds it. The two form an effective aquatic barrier to normal passage - the Suni is deep and swift enough to make fording impossible, but also contains enough rocks and other hidden treacheries to make a sane person think twice about attempting passage by boat. The wide lake is crossable by ferry or boat, but the water is vigilantly watched from towers constructed near it. Furthermore, stories persist of spirits that dwell under the surface of the lake, especially since the mages of the city foiled a Sendrian invasion attempt a little more than ten years ago.
A fair majority of the countryside that surrounds Felarin is coverd by farms and vineyards. The earth is dark and rich, and produces cops in abundance, leading to a general belief that the land is blessed by the gods for the tolerance shown by those that live here. In addition, two separate fishing villages can be found on the shores of Lake Haven, and their abundant catches serve to further diversify the diet of those that dwell within the city.
The city itself is laid out similar to a great wagon wheel, with several main thoroughfares acting as spokes that lead directly from the outskirts to the center of the city, connected by lesser streets that lie in ever-widening rings as one walks outward from the hub. The streets are wide and spacious, and as mentioned, are paved with uniform blocks of unique white stone. Interestingly, no walls mark the boundaries of Felarin; rather, at a rather undefined point, the farmland ends, and the city begins.
The venerable Tharandul still makes his home in the original tower, which stands at the heart of the city proper. In addition to the tower, the two major jewels in Felarin's crown - the Academy and the Library - are also in the center of the city, where they are separated from each other by a large reflecting pool. Most businesses reside on the main spoke roads, whether they cater to everyday needs such as food, lodging, and shoe repair, or instead deal with more exotic requests, such as providing proper newt gizzards, binding of spellbooks, and custom-tailored curses. Likewise, most residences are located on the lesser ring streets that connect the great spokes. There is a definite hierarchy in value - the closer to the center of Felarin you are, the more exclusive the shops and neighborhoods will be. For governing purposes, the city is divided into four equal quadrants, or districts, with the lines being drawn by exact compass directions.
Culture and Society: It goes without saying that the populace of Felarin differs a bit from that of 'normal' cities. Of course, many ordinary people make their homes in the white city; after all, someone has to run the mundane businesses, sweep the streets, dispose of the trash, and handle the myriad of normal tasks that occur in day to day city life. However, the daily exposure to both the arcane and the divine have jaded the citizenry quite a bit - magical occurings that might cause major chaos in other settlements hardly draw a second glance in Felarin.
This tolerance extends to many areas of life. For instance, all religions, even those devoted to evil deities, are allowed in Felarin so long as the practitioners behave themselves (no human sacrifices allowed!). New visitors to the city are often surprised to discover that the temple of D'hurgen is only two streets away from that of Lysora, but the locals seem to take it in stride.
Due to its rather singular nature, as many as a third of Felarin's residents do not make permenant homes here. These 'transient' citizens are, for the most part, mages and priests who journey to the city to study and meditate for periods of time before returning to whence they came. Further, quite a few of the wealthier mages that call Felarin home also maintain estates in other parts of the world, and live here only a few months out of any given year. Given these unique circumstances, there is a rather active temporary housing market in Felarin, with more inns than one might expect to find in a city this size, and many individuals willing to rent their houses out for the months that they do not intend to live within the white city.
There is a touch of cultural hierarchy within Felarin - the mages tend to consider themselves to be the upper class, regardless of monetary wealth, with the clergy treated as near-equals, and mundane people often viewed as second-class. Of course, the ordinary folk may not share these views, but since the gifted run the city, there is usually little to be done about it Overall, there is a prevalent attitude among Felarin's citizens that they are somehow superior to people from other places, and this belief can manifest itself as indifference, snobbery, or as a patronizing attitude toward visitors.
Regardless of magical talent, wealth, or knowledge, all are permitted to freely use the facilities of the Library of Felarin, so long as the books are respected. Damaging Library property is serious business, and willful damage carries heavy penalties.
Religion: As stated, religion is treated with a very open attitude in Felarin. While most "evil" religions are technically considered to be illegal under Ertainian law, the council overlooks this fact so long as a religion's followers respect the general codes of conduct. Since this upholds the spirit of the law, the crown does not interfere, except in cases where cultists are considered to be using Felarin against a safehaven from the law.
As a favorite of scholars and mages, Jusarin is easily the most-worshipped deity in Felarin. However, there are places of worship in this city dedicated to virtually every deity in the Audalis pantheon. Some of these are large, beautiful buildings, such as the temples of Solanis, Lysora, and Jusarin. Others, such as the churches of Falloes and Miellyah, are more humble structures. Others still, such as the shrine to Sharlys, may be little more than an altar or some other consecrated spot, and may or may not have a member of that religion's clergy in regular attendance.
Trade and Commerce: Felarin attracts visitors and scholars from all across Antaron, but with its isolated position, the city itself conducts little normal trade with the outside world. Even so, the local economy is quite healthy, and the standard of living is fairly high. Ertainian currency is the standard, but travelers tend to bring their own coinage with them, so it is possible to find almost any type of money here.
Most import trade comes in the form of seasonal merchants who bring their odd - but prized - merchandise to the white city. Spell components, both mundane and exotic, are highly sought after, and a few enterprising individuals have rather lucrative businesses importing such materials to the city. Felarin also imports wines (fine wines, especially), cloth, and a host of smaller commodities. In recent years, motivated entrepreneurs have begun using the water route across Lake Haven as a practical way to bring trade in and out of the city, thus avoiding the problems associated with crossing the enchanted wood.
Naturally, Felarin is probably the largest exporter of books in Antaron, as the wealthy of the world are seemingly quite prepared to pay the exorbiant costs necessary to duplicate books by hand, and no other place in the world has the sort of selection that can be found in the white city. Many an Academy initiate pays their tuition by spending countless hours scratching away with pen and ink, as the pay is far better than can be found through most other means.
What is essentially tourism also accounts for a major portion of Felarin's financial success. Visitors know of the city's reputation, and many travel here, coin in hand, in the hopes of purchasing potions, blessings, cures, and other magical items and services of every stripe. Unfortunately, this situation is a charlatan's fondest dream, and a host of fake cures, powerless 'spells', and false charms are sold to the unknowing public every day. The Council attempts to regulate the trade of arcane and divine services, but they cannot regulate the desire of obtaining the impossible, or the hope of purchasing magical trinkets at bargain costs, and so the widespread practice continues.
Government and Politics: While Felarin technically falls under Ertainian rule, the king's law is granted little more than lip service. This is not to imply that the city is disloyal; taxes are paid to the crown, and all required services are rendered without issue. However, the city is largely autonomous, governed by a "Council of the Learned," and Ethryn has little need to interfere.
The governing council consists of nineteen members - the head of each of the eight orders of magic, a total of six representatives from the religious community, one representative from each of the city's four districts, and the councilmaster, appointed from the body of the council. Originally, these appointments were all made by Tharandul himself, but replacements are now selected by council. The aging archmage has little interest in daily government, preferring to leave virtually all decisions to the council; only the most severe disputes involve the liege lord of Felarin.
Naturally, there are all the political squabbles one would expect to find - the mages bicker amongst themselves, and everyone (especially the religious community) feels that the mages have an unfair share of power. For the most part, the district representatives tend to be minor players in Felarin politics, though they enjoy a comfortable life as part of the aristocracy.
The city does not maintain its own formal watch; instead, Ertain keeps a garrison of two entire companies of soldiers here. Ertains lions perform this duty for the city, as well as that of enforcing both local and royal law. Soldiers normally serve six month tours of duty in the city, with individuals rotated out in overlapping groups every three months, thus ensuring that no force is ever more half-full of men unfamiliar with the city and its quirks. These soldiers are considered to be under the command of the local lord - Tharandul, and therefore, the council - but answer to the crown. In this way, Ertain keeps an eye on the independent city, while still providing them with a valuable service. The locals, especially the mages, tend to roll their eyes at this, but all in all, it is an equitable arrangement.
Values and Taboos: Knowledge, and the pursuit of it, is what Felarin was founded on. All, even the mundane, are encouraged to share this precious resource, for by doing so, all are enriched. It is a crime to destroy learning; book burning, in extreme cases, can carry the death penalty.
Felarin's citizens enjoy personal freedoms akin to those usually reserved for inhabitants of independent city-states. They realize this, and are very protective of their freedoms. As long as an individual's personal business does not hinder anyone else, they are free to pursue whatever desires their hearts can invent. This mindset leads to the Ertainian crown being viewed as a necessary evil. It is widely believed that Felarin would be even better off without any interference from the king, but most realize that the Sendrian border is perilously close, and few entertain thoughts that Sendrian rule would be so kind.
The Library of Felarin: This massive white marble building contains the single greatest collection of knowledge known to men, and houses both copies and original works by great authors, scholars, and mages, with a few pieces dating back as far as the Anatharian Empire. The works, which cover virtually every arcane and mundane topic imaginable, are meticulously kept and organized by a staff paid by the city. However, it is the love of knowledge, not pay, which attracts those that would be keeps of the Library's knowledge.
Visitors from all across Antaron come to study at the Library, and residents of the city frequently bring new works back to donate to the archives. Even the haughty Sylvari deign to make the trip into human lands to peruse some of the titles that are kept within these marble walls.
Anyone may study or copy any title within the Library, though some of the older, more fragile texts may only be viewed with the assistance of one of the Library's curators (this assistance usually requires a suitable 'donation' to the Library, naturally), for obvious reasons. However, nothing is normally permitted to be taken from the premises, with the Academy and a few archmages being the only notable exceptions to this policy.
The Academy of Magic: Traditionally, wizards are few and far between, and the only way to learn the craft is to apprentice with one of these accomplished mages. However, this apprenticeship often consists of little more than involuntary servitude, where the hopeful mageling does his or her best to glean what scraps of learning they can, often after having paid one's entire life savings to the wizard in return for the "favor." Even if the mentor is helpful, the student is usually limited to learning what that one individual can pass along from their personal experience.
With the vision of training mages in a new, better way, the Academy was formed three decades ago. Granted, initiates still do the traditional manual labor of normal apprentices, but they gain exposure to many teachers - accomplished mages from many different disciplines that pass along their knowledge to the next generation.
Initiates must pass a vigorous examination before entering, and the experience is different for every person. Very few applicants are accepted into the Academy due to the stringent qualification tests. Once an applicant is accepted, they live in residence at the Academy, devoting their entire existence, as well as most of their worldly fortune, to it. All initiates are treated as equal - lower than the mages, but equal to each other, that is - until such time as they are recognized as full mages of whatever discipline they choose. Initiates typically pursue their studies for several years before attaining this rank, but it can take a decade or more.
The subject is very much debated over whether academy-trained mages are any better equipped to deal with magic than those who learn the traditional way, but if nothing else, the Academy serves to further augment the driving vision behind the city of Felarin - that of a community where magical knowledge is freely shared.
Lake Haven: The wide, cold lake, almost big enough to be considered a freshwater sea, it vital in many ways to Felarin. As stated, the lake provides abundant fish and other aquatic delicacies for the area's residents. Merchants use it as an important route to and from the city, as doing so is considered to be less dangerous than attempting to pass the wood. Equally important, however, is the defensive aspect that the lake provides.
In 439 E.R., Sendria attempted to sail a small fleet across the lake in a bid to take the city by surprise. On that evening, Felarin's gifted summoned terrible powers to defend the city, sinking every Sendrian vessel.
The water churned and frothed, and witness accounts tell of men being pulled, screaming, from their boats by unseen arcane forces. Apparently, the Sendrians attempted to flee, but no quarter was given. Within a matter of minutes, the battle, such as it was, had ended.
To this day, stories abound that the spirits of the drowned Sendrians haunt the waters of the lake, seeking to pull the living under the waters with them. On moonless nights, no one dares to visit the lake - there are many reports, some from very credible individuals, that these spirits have been seen wandering the shores.
391 E.R. - Tharandul Graystave is awarded a small landed title in northern Ertain for his service to the crown. Construction is begun on his personal tower.
393 E.R.. - Construction on the tower is finished. Tharandul founds Felarin as a center of magical learning.
405 E.R. - Library of Felarin founded by a contribution from noted Drannese scholar Atrirus Etraticus.
412 E.R. - Felarin attacked by crunaik tribes. Although they were defeated, the creatures caused extensive damage.
415 E.R. - Ertainian soldiers wander for four days in an endless wood outside the town. Legend of the Felarin Wood begins to spread.
421 E.R. - Academy of Magic founded.
427 E.R. - First Council of the Learned convenes. Original council size is five members.
439 E.R. - Twelve Sendrian vessels are sunk via magical means while crossing Lake Haven in a bid to take the city. Witnesses claim that Sendrian cries for help can be heard for weeks after.
452 E.R. - Present date.
Thanks to Olan Suddeth for this contribution!