This is the witty, mock-travelogue entry on Fionavar in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. Reprinted with kind permission.
MAP by Sue Reynolds
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FIONAVAR, a land of undetermined location. At present, barring divine intervention, Fionavar can only be reached with magical assistance – either from the mages and sources of the Council of Mages, using the skylore they command, or from the priestesses of the Mother Goddess, Dana, tapping into the earthroot (avarlith).
Fionavar has an exceptional variety of geographical features to interest the traveller. In the south the benign weather and soil conditions have combined to make the country of Cathal a veritable garden. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Summer Palace of Larai Rigal, where the spectacular walled gardens (designed by the gifted T’Varen in the reign of Thallason) extend for miles and include a variety of flora and fauna found nowhere else in Fionavar. The gardens are divided by streams crossed by nine bridges – one for each of the historical provinces that became Cathal. Near the northern wall of the gardens of Larai Rigal may be found the large lyren tree that legend holds to be the site of the first meeting of Prince Diarmuid of Brennin and Sharra, Princess of Cathal, in the last days before the Second War against Rakoth Maugrim.
The traveller with a liking for such things should not leave Cathal without sampling m’rae the celebrated liqueur (best drunk chilled), or tasting the much-praised sherbets of the Garden Country.
Travel northward to the High Kingdom of Brennin must be accomplished by a barge crossing between the coastal cities of Cynan and Seresh. This should not deter the traveller from journeying north from Larai Rigal to view the magnificent coursing of the Saeren River through its gorge. The gorge itself is impassable to all but the most well-equipped and trained mountaineers.
Brennin enjoys a temperate climate (except in certain periods of historical crisis) and has extensive agricultural land under the plough. The largest city, Paras Derval, shares its name with the Royal Palace built on the slope northeast of town. The town itself offers easily the best selection of items for purchase in Fionavar – particularly the wonderfully crafted cloth goods, from table coverings and tapestries to sweaters and coats. Paras Derval is also celebrated for its beer, and the number of taverns there is extraordinary. Of these, The Black Boar is recommended for its historical associations with Prince Diarmuid and others.
Within the Palace itself the Great Hall (designed by Tomaz Lal) must be seen, with its twelve massive pillars, mosaic-inlaid floor, ubiquitous tapestries and the justly celebrated stained-glass windows of Delevan. Ideally the hall should be visited at sunset, when the play of light on the westernmost window, showing Conary and Colan, the High Kings during the First War against Maugrim (the Bael Rangat), is most pleasing.
West of Paras Derval lies the Mõrnirwood, or Godwood, wherein is found the Summer Tree, long bound up with the fate and power of the High Kings of Brennin. Access to the Godwood and the tree is strictly controlled, and the casual traveller is unlikely in the extreme to have occasion or opportunity to go there.
The easternmost province of Brennin, Gwen Ystrat, has long enjoyed a special status by virtue of its ancient connections with Dana, the Mother Goddess, and the priestesses who serve her. The welcome travellers receive in these parts is likely to depend directly upon whether they are male or female. Men will be expected to give a ceremonial offering of blood to the goddess should they wish to view the temple and its grounds in the town of Morvran, along the shores of Lake Leinan. Uninhibited travellers should note that the Midsummer Eve Festival (Maidaladan) is notorious for the unbridled eroticism associated with its celebrations in Morvran.
East of the town, almost in the foothills of the southern arm of the Carnevon Range, lies the goddess’s sacred cave of Dun Maura, shrouded in historical and religious associations. Incidentally, Gwen Ystrat is noted for the quality of its wines, particularly the white.
North of Brennin, running all the way up to the evergreens of Gwynir, lie the vast grazing lands of the Plain, home to the Dalrei (the Riders) and to enormous numbers of the eltor, the creatures upon which the Dalrei depend for their subsistence. The fortunate traveller may be permitted to watch a tribe of the Dalrei in their highly ritualized hunting of a ‘swift’ of eltor, and, if even more fortunate, may be invited to one of the open-air barbecue feasts that often follow the hunting. Caution is advised with respect to the consumption of sachen, the very potent liqueur favoured by the Dalrei.
West of the Plain lies the ancient forest of Pendaran, the Great Wood. There have been reports of a lessening of this sentient forest’s antipathy to intruders of all kinds, but pending confirmation of this the traveller is advised to stay well clear of what may still be a very dangerous area. The one exception, for the adventurous, might be to take a sea voyage north from Taerlindel or Rhoden to the Anor Lisen (Tower of Lisen) at the edge of the sea, just at the western edge of Pendaran. The tower itself is off limits to travellers, but this wild, romantic strand was the setting for the reunion of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere in the days of the Second War, as well as the place where the beautiful Lisen of the Wood leapt to her death at the time of the First War.
The northern lands of Andarien and Sennett Strand are only now undergoing extensive rehabilitation, after more than a thousand years of lying ruined and desolate. Andarien, for students of military affairs, was of course the setting for the last battle in the Second War, and the site can readily be visited. Farther north, approached with some difficulty through a singular lack of travellers’ amenities, may be seen the rubble of the fallen towers of Starkadh, the fortress of Rakoth Maugrim the Unraveller. The traveller who does venture this far will be rewarded with unparalleled views of Rangat Cloud-Shouldered, the magnificent mountain which utterly dominates the skyline. At one time this area was regrettably unsafe, but there have been no reports of the malevolent svart alfar for quite some time.
Between Andarien and Pendaran Wood lies the blurred outline of Daniloth, the realm of the lios alfar. Although no longer known as the Shadowland since the overthrow of Rakoth, the land of the lios is not one where travellers may go with impunity even now, and so, barring an express invitation this, too, is a place best avoided – despite the lure of sites such as the upward-flowing falls of Fiathal, or the Mound of Atronel whereon sits the crystal throne of the lios alfar.
East of the dividing mountain ranges of Carnevon and Skeledarak lies the tragically desolate wilderness of Eridu. In the Second War the evil Rakoth Maugrim caused a genocidal death-rain to fall throughout this land, and as a result the once-magnificent cities of Akkaize, Teg Veirene and Larak are only now being resettled. In the north of Eridu, still keeping much to themselves under the current reign of King Matt Sõren (though less so than before), dwell the Dwarves of Banir Lõk and Banir Tal – the Twin Mountains in the bowl of which lies the legendary Calor Dim
an (Crystal Lake). Other than the Dwarves themselves only two people – Loren Silvercloak, once First Mage of Brennin, later counsellor to King Matt; and Kimberly Ford, who came from our own world to briefly become the Seer of Brennin in the days of the Second War – have been permitted to enter the meadow of the Crystal Lake, and neither has offered an account of what they saw there.
Fionavar’s prehistory is hazy. Originally there appear to have been only two peoples (aside from the various gods and goddesses) inhabiting it: the Paraiko (Giants) and the Kings of the Wild Hunt. These were followed by the lios alfar and the Dwarves; it is a matter of some dispute which race came first.
Many years later Men arrived on the Plain and across the mountains in Eridu, and in the south, in the provinces that became Cathal after unification. The rise of Men as a formidable race coincides with the arrival of Iorweth Founder from over the sea to the west. Legend has it that he was summoned by the god Mõrnir to the place of the Summer Tree, and near that wood founded the city of Paras Derval and then shaped the High Kingdom of Brennin.
The epochal conflict in Fionavar’s ancient history was the Bael Rangat, fought against the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim the Unraveller. The evil Unraveller, based in his fortress of Starkadh far in the north, was only defeated after very great hardship by an army led by Conary the High King of Brennin and, after Conary’s death in battle, by his son Colan the Beloved. The Dalrei, led by Revor, their Aven (‘Father’), were instrumental in the battles that led to victory, and as a consequence Colan ceded the Plain to Revor and his heirs forever. Rakoth was captured, but being ‘outside of time’ could not be slain. Instead he was bound in magically forged chains beneath the great mountain, Rangat, and five wardstones were shaped to be given to the people of Brennin, Cathar, Eridu and the Plain, and to the lios alfar in Daniloth. The wardstones were designed to give warning if Rakoth ever exerted his powers to attempt to achieve his freedom.
(Guy Gavriel Kay, The Summer Tree, Toronto, 1984; Guy Gavriel Kay, The Wandering Fire, New York, 1986; Guy Gavriel Kay, The Darkest Road, New York, 1986)