Fire of Heaven


Fire of Heaven

Fire of Heaven is a fantasy trilogy by Russell Kirkpatrick. Its three volumes are "Across the Face of the World", "In the Earth abides the Flame" (both published in 2004) and "The Right Hand of God" (published 2005).

Synopsis

Across the Face of the World

A prologue reveals Kannwar the Destroyer as he finalises his plans to invade and conquer the continent of Faltha. He muses on the torture-extracted confessions of a captured Dhaurian spy, who spoke of the plan of the Most High to save Faltha. These plans centre on the "Right Hand", a mysterious entity, perhaps a person. The Destroyer plans to turn this Right Hand to evil, setting him up as a puppet ruler over Faltha.

The story proper opens in Loulea, a small village and farming community at the western extremity of Faltha in the Kingdom of Firanes. Among Loulea's inhabitants is Leith Mahnumsen, a shy and introspective boy 16 years old, who lives with his mother Indrett and older (adopted) brother Hal. His father, Mahnum, was sent away on a spying mission two years earlier and never returned. The family as a whole is not held in high esteem in Loulea, consisting as it does of an (apparent) widow, Hal, who is crippled, and Leith, who is widely perceived as immature; Indrett is exasperated at the condescension of her fellow-villagers. Leith himself misses his father, but also angry with him because Mahnum has apparently abandoned his family. He is also attracted to a village girl, Stella Pellwen. In the leadup to the Midwinter Festival, Leith finds himself doing odd jobs around the village, especially helping Kurr, an elderly farmer in the district. To his surprise and delight, Leith is selected to play the Summer character in the Midwinter Play, along with Stella. On the day of the Midwinter Festival, at the end of the Play, Mahnum returns from his long journey - and immediately takes Leith and the rest of the family home.

Once in their house, Mahnum relates his story to them. He was sent to Bhrudwo by the King of Firanes, who had heard rumours about an impending invasion. There he was captured by servants of the Lords of Fear, the elite military unit of the Bhrudwan army, and taken to Andratan, the Destroyer's island fortress. There he was tortured and interrogated about the Right Hand, told of a vast and intricate plan to invade and conquer Faltha, in which many Falthan courtiers and officials and even kings were already complicit, including the Regent of Firanes, and finally returned to the cells marked for death. He escaped with the assistance of a Bhrudwan, Vaniyo, who, apparently angry at the prospect of no reward, betrayed him to the Lords of Fear. For the next year, Mahnum fled across Bhrudwo and Faltha, trying - but never succeeding - to shake their pursuit; having finally arrived home, he now plans to take his family into exile, hoping to keep Loulea safe from the ruthless Lords. They agree, and plan to leave in secret the very next morning.

But during the night, the four Lords of Fear who have chased Mahnum arrive at their house. They abduct Mahnum and Indrett, and knock both Leith and Hal out before setting fire to their home.

The Haufuth, Loulea's village chief, is awakened by the departing Lords in time to rescue Leith and Hal from the flames. Hearing their story, and aware that with traitors everywhere secrecy is of paramount importance, he stages their funerals, then seeks the advice of the old farmer Kurr, who has revealed that he is in fact a Watcher, a member of a centuries-old secret society dedicated to opposing a Bhrudwan invasion. Together with Leith and Hal, the Haufuth and Kurr concoct a desperate plan: they will pursue the Lords of Fear, rescue Mahnum and Indrett, and if possible capture one of the Lords, take him to Instruere and there, with an elite Bhrudwan soldier as evidence, alert the Council of Faltha to the approaching invasion. They are at this point surprised by Stella, who is herself shocked to see Leith and Hal alive; in order to avoid tales, they take Stella with them in their pursuit. Stella agrees to this, as it allows her to escape a marriage to the cruel Druin.

Setting out on their pursuit, they first visit Kroptur, Kurr's mentor among the Watchers, as well as a prophet and a master of illusions. He introduces them to the "Way of Fire", supernatural power which may be used for good or evil. They continue to the town of Mjolkbridge, where they encounter Farr and Wira Storrsen, brothers whose father was killed by the Lords of Fear as they travelled east. "To be continued."

In the Earth abides the Flame

The Right Hand of God

People and Places

General

With a few exceptions, the books are set on the continent of Faltha, which forms the north-western part of a large landmass (possibly a supercontinent) of unknown extent. Parts of the narrative occur in Bhrudwo, the north-eastern part of the same landmass.

Faltha

In the widest (geographical) sense, Faltha is a large continent in the north-western part of the known world. It is roughly analogous to Europe. Geographically, like Europe it is bounded on the east by mountains, rather than by a coastline; the culture and characteristics of many of its inhabitants also resemble those of medieval Europe.

In a narrower political and cultural sense, Faltha is a loose federation of sixteen Kingdoms, each of which was founded by the First Men who were exiled from the Vale of Dona Mihst and their descendants.

Geography and Climate

The geography of Faltha is widely varied.

Faltha is bordered on the east by mountains: the Aldhras in the north, and the Armatura in the south. The Aldhras are Faltha's highest mountain range. Between these two mountain ranges is the Gap, the only known pass between Faltha and Bhrudwo.

Draining much of central Faltha is the Aleinus River, which flows from a source near the Gap, gathering water from many tributaries, and reaches the sea in a broad tidal estuary downstream from the city of Instruere.

Peoples and Cultures

Popularly, the peoples of Faltha are divided into two categories. These are the "First Men" and their descendants on the one hand, and the "losian" on the other.

The First Men originally dwelt in the Vale of Dona Mihst, south of Faltha, in a covenant relationship with their deity, the Most High, and were granted very long lives and knowledge of the "Way of Fire". In a succession of incidents now recalled as "the Poisoning", the majority of First Men were exiled from Dona Mihst; journeying north across the desert, they arrived at the Aleinus River. They founded sixteen kingdoms, a process partly caused by a bitter dispute over leadership between the clan heads Furist and Raupa.

"Losian" are the other inhabitants of Faltha. Originally, the word "losian", meaning "lost", was a technical term to refer to those inhabitants of Dona Mihst who voluntarily rejected the Way of Fire and left the Vale before the Poisoning, never to return. In popular usage, however, it has been extended to cover all human inhabitants of Faltha who are not descendants of those First Men who settled Faltha after the Poisoning. Since it is evident that many of these are not descended from the Lost of Dona Mihst, the origin of most "losian" remains unknown.

Most "losian" live in tribal groupings in areas not yet effectively controlled by the Sixteen Kingdoms. Prominent examples of "losian" in the trilogy are the Fenni, the Fodhram, the Widuz, the peoples of the Mist, and the Pei-ra. Many other groups of "losian" exist.

On a political level, relations between the First Men and the "losian" are often strained. Historically, the First Men have tended either to displace the original inhabitants or to expect them to adapt to First Man patterns of living, in a manner reminiscent of European colonialism. As a result, unconquered "losian" are now only found in harsh and remote areas. This has caused a good deal of bitterness for some groups of "losian", such as the Widuz and the Mist. There are others who have become content with their new circumstances, but desire to be left alone; the Fenni, for example, deal swiftly and harshly with trespassers and have become an object of fear in northern legend. For their part, the statesmen of the Sixteen Kingdoms typically see the "losian" either as savages to be brought into civilisation, as enemies to be conquered, or using the principle of leaving well enough alone.

Everyday contacts between First Men and "losian" are a mixed bag. On the one hand, racism is readily evident, as for example in Farr Storrsen's outbursts regarding the Fenni, and also the inhabitants of Windrise who he believes to engage in miscegenation. On the other hand, many of the First Men are content to trade with, work alongside and even enter into relationships with "losian". The King of Favony, one of the Sixteen, for example, is part Wodranian.

The cultures of the various "losian" groups draw to a large extent on those found in our world. In particular, the people of the Mist are based heavily on the Maori, and the Pei-ra also borrow from Polynesian tradition.

Countries and Cities

Faltha is divided into sixteen kingdoms, founded by the First Men, and large areas which are under the effective control of various "losian" tribes. In addition, certain regions are uninhabited and effectively beyond human influence.

The Sixteen Kingdoms form a loose confederation. Each kingdom is essentially sovereign, managing not only its internal affairs but also trade, defence and foreign policy, to the extent of having the legal ability to go to war against others of the Sixteen; thus, for example, 24 years prior to the opening of the trilogy, Sna Vazthan armies overran the kingdom of Haurn, reducing it to a vassal state, and three years later attempted to do the same to Asgowan. The common government of Faltha rests in the hands of the Council of Faltha, consisting of one representative from each of the Sixteen Kingdoms; these representatives are called "Arkhoi" (singular "Arkhos"). Each Kingdom's Arkhos serves at the pleasure of his monarch. Legally, decisions made by the Council are binding on all Sixteen Kingdoms. In practice, the Council itself commands no armed forces except the Instruian Guard, and so is reliant on individual Kingdoms to enforce its dictates. The Council is a collegial body, with no provisions for a presiding officer; leadership of the Council is thus in the hands of the Arkhos who has the support of a majority of his fellow Arkhoi. Thus the Arkhos of Nemohaim was able to become the effective leader of the Council in the time leading up to the events of the trilogy.

Instruere

Instruere, called the Great City, is the largest and most populated urban centre in Faltha. Situated on an island in the midst of the Aleinus River, it is originally a conglomeration of two villages, Inna (populated by followers of Raupa) and Struere (settled by followers of Furist). The whole city is famous as a commercial centre, and is at the hub of traffic from Faltha's interior as well as the areas on the sea coasts. Instruere is fortified by a city wall, but the disruption to trade should the city be attacked is said to be a stronger defence than any wall. In this wall there are two great gates - the Inna and Struere Gates - and many smaller ones. Instruere contains sixteen markets, and is a tightly packed jumble of residential and commercial areas. The northern part of Instruere is strongly influenced by the culture of Deuverre, while the southern half is more similar to Straux. In the centre of Instruere lie the so-called Four Halls: the Pinion, which serves as a prison and torture chamber as well as the headquarters of the municipal armed forces, the Instruian Guard; the Hall of Lore, a museum and place of learning; the House of Worship, a monument to the days of Dona Mihst; and the impressive Hall of Meeting, the seat of the Council of Faltha. Crime, both petty and organised, flourishes in Instruere; in a notable instance of corruption, the organised criminal groups pay a portion of their takings to the Council. Previously, Instruere had its own mayor, and there was also a time when the King of Straux had his capital in the city. Now, however, city government is vested in the Council of Faltha, and especially in whoever leads the Council for the time being.

Firanes

Firanes, "the Cape of Fire" in the ancient language of the First Men, is a mountainous country in the north-western extremity of Faltha. The capital and largest town, Rammr, is located on the south coast of the country. After the recent death of King Prosala, the courtier Wisula is acting as regent on behalf of an under-age King whose name is not revealed. Both Wisula and the Arkhos of Firanes are identified by Mahnum as traitors to Faltha.Much of the population lives in southern Firanes, with its warmer climate, and to a lesser extent up the west coast. Legends tell of the ancient city of Astora, once the capital of Firanes, which was built on the west coast and collapsed into the sea after being undermined by erosion. After the drowning of Astora, Loulea, the setting of the opening chapters, is the westernmost village on the Westway, the old highway from Instruere to Astora.Northern Firanes in particular is sparsely populated, and the country as a whole is referred to by Saraskar, an Arkhos of Sarista, as "the most...undeveloped" of the Sixteen Kingdoms. Travel and communications are very limited, and matters are often dealt with by local communities. Thus, a generations-old feud between the northern towns of Mjolkbridge and Windrise has continued unchecked and produced the occasional battle. The Lankangas, ten cities in eastern Firanes, are currently at war with the government in Rammr, having seceded eight years ago. The most hostile regions of the interior are not subject to the King of Firanes at all; the "losian" Scymrians have a 300-year truce with Firanes, and the moors of Myrvidda are inhabited only by the Fenni. The extreme north of the country is a region of tundra and frozen seas.Notable geographic features of Firanes include two large rivers, the Mjolk and the Kljufa, and the Jawbone Mountains. The most spectacular range in the Jawbones is the Grossbergen. Also found in these parts is the glacier Styggesbreen.


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