The Book of Eight Sages
Dunes, Kingdom of: Westernmost kingdom of the Western Empire of the pretender Garnet Empress, the Kingdom of the Dunes lives up to its name. It is a dry country of large sand dunes, scrub grass and oases connected by a single river. It is best known for the fine kwaifon goat wool, the colored salts of the secret salt mines and the fragrant incense from the desert tamlin tree. Also, through it runs the primary trade route to the wealthy kingdoms of the Da’chien beyond the Shang Mountains.
Geography: The Kingdom of the Dunes is bounded on the north and west by the Great Desert, an arid land by which all other deserts are measured. Indeed, no true border has been set in the north and west, as beyond is the truly inhospitable. Stories tell of sand demons inhabiting the deep desert, but the few who have ever entered and returned tell of no such encounters. There are, however, no records of what is beyond the desert. To the south are the mighty Shang Mountains and the storied Chi Chein Pass, through which runs the above mentioned trade road, and to the east are the Archduchy of Fen Wi and the Kingdom of Ga’am. The Kingdom covers about 78,000 square miles in an oblong shape.
Most of the landscape is covered with the dunes for which it is named. These dunes give it a rolling landscape in which it is easy to lose one’s way. They rise anywhere from 10 feet to an impressive 750 feet. The dunes are usually covered with a short, tough scrub grass, and are home to the many goat herders. The scrub grass lessens as one travels north or west, disappearing entirely some ten miles beyond the farthest outposts of the Kingdom. Through the Kingdom, flowing north from the Shang Mountains, runs the Red River. Though the water is nearly crystal clear, it gets its name from the red orange color of the river bed. This color comes from the high iron content of the Shang Mountains, and is further exacerbated by the midden heaps of the iron mines through which run much of its tributaries. It empties into a salt fen in the north west of the Kingdom. At about one third of its route lies Lake Hsu, a deep freshwater lake. Many believe that the lake is also fed by springs, as it is clearer than the Red River, and the river bed downstream of Lake Hsu is more yellowish in color. As one travels south, the land gradually rises and the sand thins until bedrock begins to show. As one enters the foothills of the Shangs, the air cools and runoff streams from the mountains allows some more growth. It is here that the tamlin trees thrive. They have so far proved resistant to domestication and seem to favor growing amongst the horned acacia hedges. Of particular interest is the sacred mountain of Balipor. The name is ancient and its meaning lost. At the foot of the mountain is a temple of healing. It is claimed that all manner of ailments, curses and diseases my be treated by the temple adepts, and people from across the Middle Kingdom come to bathe in its hot mud springs and be healed. A long and winding path climbs to the peak of the mountain, where one may sleep but one night, perhaps to dream of mystic Buredasa. There is danger in this, however, as of those who do dream of Buredasa, many never awake. From the peak may also be seen on a clear day the ever cloud shrouded Mount Kulkan, said to have at its peak a bridge to the Celestial Kingdom of Her most August Jade Empress. Oases dot the duned landscape, few more than a day’s ride apart in the east and south, farther apart as one travels north and west. It is believed that far to the west are the salt mines worked by criminals and slaves. The mines belong to the royal house, run by a junior branch which alone know the exact location. Should any who do not belong show knowledge of the salt mine’s location or be found near the salt mine, they will have earned themselves lifelong employment in the mines. Reliable reports say the deepest levels of the mine are flooded. It is joked that they are the waters of the inky sea, as death is never far from a salt miner, the journey both short and swift.
Economy: Though seemingly located on a wasteland, the Kingdom of the Dunes is remarkably prosperous. Their chief exports are the above mentioned kwaifon goat wool, tamlin incense and salt. The kwaifon goats are even separated into three breeds, these being the Commoner, Noble and Kingly breeds. The Commoner breed is the most common animal. It produces an adequate wool, similar in quality to most sheep or goat wools. Its use, however, is primarily in traction, dairy and meat. Goat milk and cheese are staples of the kingdom diet, and the commoner goats produce milk in great quantity. They are also larger and tamer beasts, superior to asses and mules for carrying loads or even pulling carts in the local terrain and environment. As larger beasts, they also provide more meat. The Noble breed can be used as Commoners, but such would be considered foolish. Like the noble class, they spend their lives in contented feeding, discomfort being a rare and bothersome thing. They are the primary producers of the famed kwaifon wool. Only finished silk or Bamboo hair silk is of finer quality than finished kwaifon goat wool. Raw kwaifon is held by many as more valuable than raw silk. Finally, the Royal breed is a specially bred herd, carefully fed and tended by the royal goatherders for the Queen. Numbering only a few thousand, it is death to interbreed them with any other stock. The wool of the Royal breed is even superior to the Noble breed, and the Queen of the Dunes will wear only her own wools against her skin. Some consider royal kwaifon wool to be superior even to finished silk, and most consider them comparable.
Salt is the second most important export. The secret mine produces salt in many colors and shades of flavor. The most common colors besides white are green, blue, pink and yellow. While the mines are a royal monopoly, its distribution is via the many merchant houses of the kingdom, to whom the royal house sells the salt. From there, the colored salts especially will decorate and flavor the tables of most nobility in the Middle Kingdom. It is further stated that up to half of the salt actually travels through the Chi Chein pass and beyond. The farthest east it has been seen is on the table of the Tsaanpwair emperor in Ang Puranoo.
The third major export, tamlin incense, is the rarest and most valuable by weight. The incense is made from the resin of the tamlin tree. Trees can be tapped productively during and just after the brief rainy season in the foothills of the Shang Mountains, where the trees grow wild. A tree can be tapped for about 5 weeks, producing three to five gallons per day. The sap can then be boiled or evaporated to about 0.5 to 1.5 ounces of crystallized incense per gallon of sap. A gallon of sap can be boiled away gently over only one to two hours, but the quality will suffer in proportion to how quickly it was boiled down. The best and most expensive incense is evaporated in flat pans in the sun. This may take days per gallon, during which times it must be closely guarded or hidden, as thieves will readily steal the sap.
Besides these exports, the Kingdom boasts several iron mines and works, as well as a few precious metal mines in the Shang Mountains. The quality of their works are average, comparable to other parts of the Middle Kingdom. The oases and river also support agriculture. The staple grains are a hardy strain of barley and wheat. Date and coconut palms have also been imported. The dates are said to have arrived via the Chi Chein Pass, while the coconuts were brought from distant Tsaanpwair. Finally, fishing in Lake Hsu is productive on a small scale. Swimming, however, is dangerous as the lake is inhabited by large carp able to swallow a man whole. These and the salt marsh crocodiles in the salt fens are the only aquatic dangers of the Kingdom.
Sing Wan: The capital and only city of the kingdom is Sing Wan, seat of the Tamlin Queen. The city occupies the northwest shore of Lake Hsu, and is unique among capital cities of the Middle Kingdom in that it lacks any city fortifications. It is the belief, backed so far by experience, that the very nature of the kingdom makes attack from outsiders nearly unthinkable and thus, walls unnecessary. The palace is located in the north along the Red River, with a military base set next to it. Both of these are walled, but mostly for privacy rather than security. A siege engineer would be insulted by the task of overcoming these walls. Spread out to the south of the palace and base is the lively city of Sing Wan. Streets of the city are winding with no evidence of planning. In the center is what passes for a business district, though small shops can be found throughout the city. The very center has a year round open market where all manner of goods can be found. The merchant houses of the kingdom have extensive networks bringing every sort of product to the city markets. In the business districts can also be found inns and taverns for travelers. A single, wide road leads from the palace south to the open market and beyond. At the city edge, the road becomes a well used but unpaved road to the Chi Chein Pass. There it also turns and bridges the Red River, going east towards Fen Wi and Ga’am.
Submitted by Xiyang