The Aj‘Nuvic Grounds is a valley or high plain north-west of the Nirmenith Mountains (Santharian province Truban), a half arid region with an adapted plant and animal life. It is the main mating ground of the Nirmenith aj‘nuvics and therefore an important place to the Shendar. Secret trade routes of the Shen-Kha‘si, the Shendar Clay People, are leading through it to the south to Thalambath.
Image description. Two Aj'Nuvic drinking at the rivulets of the Aj'Nuvic Grounds. Picture by Talia.
of the loveliest places of Santharia, though
unknown to most people, even those who live in the towns around the
Ráhaz-Dáth, is the grand hidden valley with well
over two thousand peds
above sea level, the great high plain of the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds. Only the Shendar
know how to get there, maybe a few other people they trust.
Framed by the majestic mountains of the Nirmenith range in the south-east, and the impenetrable valleys of the Cloud Forest in the north-west - which have changed to soft ridges seen from the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds - this valley is only accessible from the northeast and the south. The south is the gate to heat, thirst and death - and to valuable minerals.
Due to its height the fauna and flora of this region is specialised to withstand the not only most times dry, but as well sometimes very cold climate. It is a vast landscape. The northern part is flowering abundantly, when enough water is available in spring; in autumn it is of a heart aching beauty, despite the heat pressing on the now dry landscape:
The branches of the giant cacti long to reach the sky while the bushes, in spring flowering in blues and whites, look now dried out and lifeless, their silvery white twigs resembling bleached bones. Nothing moves, and melancholy fills the heart of those, who have to stay longer. The colours are different than those in the desert on the other side of the mountains, clearer, distance seems not existent and one wants to touch the far away mountains, shimmering in golden reds, when the Injèrá sets in the evening. The south seems ageless, the ar‘pun grass, growing in a few tussocks far apart from each other and nearly over two peds high, seems to be a bit greener in spring, but this is the only change one might encounter. When the Injèrá is high in the sky, the mountains in the south look like menacing sharp and jagged teeth reaching into a steelblue infinity. The traveller through these lands needs a strong will to survive, the landscape shows him his unimportance and then it is only one step to lie down and merge with the land.
Location. The valley is located in the Southern Sarvonian Continent in the Santharian province of Truban, part of the big desert Ráhaz-Dáth. The Cloud Forests of Varcopas stretch in the northwest and west. The foothills of the massive mountain stock of the Nirmenith Mountains embrace the valley in the north, east and the south - access is only possible on a few hidden paths, only known by experienced Shendar.
People. The only people
living in the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds are the Shen-Kha‘si shepherds, the Shendar
Clay People, with their flocks of aka'pis. They are coming in spring, from the
north, when the plants, bushes and grasses have started to grow again, stay
there for a while and move on to the south as far as grasses of different kinds
are available. As soon as summer arrives and the few
water sources dry out, they move back to
the northern parts, stay there for a while till they return to others pastures
in the driest time of the year, at the end of autumn.
Sometimes a caravan of Shendar crosses the lands to get to the south to Thalambath or back. In spring, when bonding time arrives, the young Shendar spend some time to bond with their aj‘nuvics, partners for lifetime.
Climate. Though being arid most time of the year, the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds nevertheless have the highest rainfalls and the most water available of all the dry regions of the Ráhaz-Dáth. The high rain clouds coming from the northeast every year in the Month of the Turning Star are stopped at the central mountain range of the Nirmenith stock and release their wet load over the valley. But not only this. The northern part of the high mountains in the east of the valley hold water for most of the year which comes down in little rivulets: It forms small ponds at the bottom of the mountains which provide the animals of the Grounds most of the year over with open water, though it is not raining any more till the next late winter and early spring. However, the southern part of the valley is less blessed with rain. The mountains there are not as high like those in the central stock farther north and therefore the clouds pass them without releasing their water. There are often several years in a row where no rain at all falls, and therefore it is much drier than the northern part.
There is a phenomen in the Grounds, which the Shendar call "Baveras' Relief" or "Grothar's Mist", referring to an old myth. This mist or sometimes dense fog is nothing else than clouds, lying on the ground. They are coming from the sea every morning, rise from the ocean and flood the Cloud Forest valleys. Bringing lots of water to the Cloud Forest, the low sitting clouds most times just keep hanging in the steep valleys, but luckily some times the winds are strong enough to lift the precious water up to the height of the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds. There they lie on the ground and give the plain a mysterious look with tatters of clouds which hide the landscape. From one moment to the next, aj‘nuvics are coming out of the mist to vanish again in a matter of minutes. And not only one of the children waiting to bond with their aj‘nuvics claim that they saw a unicorn, suddenly standing in the mists, grazing within a herd of aka‘pis. These clouds don‘t bring rain to the plains, they evaporate during the day, but it is a short relieve for the dry land nevertheless and often for the south the only water available at all. In such cases it could occur, that a caravan gets lost due to a dense fog in the desert.
In winter, strong winds are blowing from north to south, where then strange weather conditions are observed. The cold, icy wind may meet air in the south, which is still warm, causing frequent storms. So it may well be that the only precipitation in the south falls as snow or hail.
Flora. The Aj'Nuvic Grounds are formed by a few dominating plants, though the plenty little ones add to its beauty, once one looks closer. As described above, the Grounds are divided in a northern and southern part, though they merge slowly over several strals.
In the northern part, the whole family of the cacti is present - the only place for that desert thriving plant found on the whole Sarvonian continent. Fields of the gigantic agisuhlt are dominating through sheer height. When such areas flower in spring, the sight is marvellous. The Aeruillin researcher Amuwen describes it as follows:
"The tops of the arms and trunk of this cactus grow flowers once a year that bloom after the sun has gone down and then close around midday the next day, only opening their glorious blossoms once. It is a very spectacular site to see an agisuhlt bloom, and many people marvel at the rich colours that spill forth from each blossom. Flower colours can range from a deep Santharian purple to a pale urmarillion, but are most commonly found in oranges and reds."
Nobody wants to come near a springing cactus, which is found at some places as
well, the prickling pango cactus however is a well loved plant, providing the
traveller with pleasant tasting and easy to harvest fruits.
However, all cacti differ slightly from the Aeruillin varieties, having developed means like a thicker needle coat and other protection methods against the freezing weather in winter. Some have, so is said, a kind of liquid in their stems which hold up freezing and is sold sometimes in the north, but only in small quantities. Mostly gnomes find it interesting.
One peculiar cactus however is only found in the Ráhaz-Dáth - the falserock cactus. In the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds the common variety with the yellow flowers is found.
Besides the cacti, the dari'i tree with its deep reaching roots provides a whole area of life for other plants and a variety of animals as it does in others regions of the Ráhaz-Dáth. It grows till far in the south, where not many other plants are found.
A not so tall, but prominent plant is the outstanding, till five peds high growing li‘accuy or white sister, with her up to four fores long green slender blades and its hanging white bell-shaped flowers towering above a distinctive single trunk, sometimes standing in groups of up to twelve individual plants.
Though not as tall as the cacti or the few trees, the ai‘le bush is in wide parts the dominating plant. Depending on the available water, it grows up to three peds high. It is famous for its flowers, which change colour during the seasons, from a brilliant blue in spring, to a white, finally light yellow green at the beginning of the summer. In late summer it changes to a dark Strata yellow, then orange and a deep Aeruillin red in autumn, till finally all leaves are shed due to the dry weather. Then the silvery branches stay behind, giving the bush its name "bone bush".
Many more smaller and not so striking plants are growing there, hardy grasses, many herbs, smaller flowers like the purple arryi and not to forget the milno‘plant near the open water sources.
The farther one travels to the south, the drier the land gets till the only plant left is, besides some small cacti and other tiny, durable plants the ar‘pun grass, first tall up to two peds, till the scarce water allows it only to grow to a height of only one fore. However, there are many seeds lying between the sand and small rocks, and if it should happen after a long time of dryness, that abundant rain falls for a day or two, the normally dry desert comes to bloom for a few weeks.
Fauna. The wildlife is plentiful in the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds. The most famous animal is of course the aj‘nuvic, the most esteemed friend of every Shendar, which gave the valley its name. Its smaller cousin, the aka‘pi is found as wild variation. It is in general a bit smaller than the domesticated forms the Shendar use for their caravans. To stay in the family - the aka‘lol is present everywhere, provided that enough food is available.
One of the funniest, though also quite dangerous animal living there is a kái'kara, a variation of the desert pig living in the Ráhaz-Dáth lowlands, adapted to the high valley. It is smaller than its big brothers roaming the floodplains, has a dense brown to black fur and the ability to consume the prickliest cacti fruit it can find.
A relative of the ellez'ga of the Narfost Plain is found, though some say, it has more in common with the ho'shi of the far north than with its nearby living sister.
Many birds thrive here as well, the high soaring Nirmenith eagle or the ground dwelling al‘syrr, the solitary living owls and the swarms of the green and blue kirilits.
One of the main predators is the aj‘nuvic elfcat, a variety of the many elfcats of Santharia, whose best known type is the Aurorian elfcat. The local cat does not differ much, it is famous however for its fur, which is white with tiny black spots in winter. It has well padded feet, which help during icy snow rains as well as when climbing on a agisuhlt is advisable when being chased by an kái'kara.
A bigger cat, though quite rare, the Nirmenith puón mazá, visits the Grounds sometimes, when food is hard to find in the mountains themselves. The golden desert focx is well known for its fur, but rarely seen in winter, for it hibernates during the snowy season.
As in any other desert, a variety of other animals are found: The dune mouse, the desert spring mouse, snakes, often poisonous, the ter'ter and their predator the myrme'co, the prio'don, the malise, bumblebees, butterflies like the red diamond variety and a lot of beetles, spiders, but not the annoying mercartor fly of the Narfost Plain. However, the most spectacular sight is if one is lucky enough to see a couple of falserock lizards during their mating flight.
Resources. Where in the south the resources on water and useful plants get scarce, the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds entice with precious minerals and stones, especially where the southern mountains begin. Occasional rainfalls wash salt and special minerals out of the rocks , the water evaporates at the base and dried out lakes full with a silvery substance known as mithrilan can be found. It is of course no mithril, but added to any other lesser metal, it improves its quality and workability to a great degree. So swords and other items could be forged out of steel which reach nearly the quality of the lost and exhausted mithril. The substance is however rare and furthermore very poisonous, especially when worked with.
The coarse sands near the southern rim have their own beauty. They shimmer in all colours, due to a great amount of half precious stones which can be found there in a great variation of colours, polished with the fine sand corns, carried by the hot desert wind coming from the north. In past centuries, these gems were collected, polished to a spherical form and sold as desert pearls, however, in our current prosperous times, more valuable stones are preferred in the ranks of the nobles - and: The trade with them had flourished for centuries and the bracelets and necklaces were widespread, so the demand for them simply ceased.
In the southwest rise two hills from the plain, which are glistening from afar. There one source of the Shendar wealth can be found. Both hills seem to be complete out of varieties of mi‘ca, the lighter variety as well as the coloured darker ones. The light kind splits in perfect layers, is flexible, doesn‘t tend to break and allows this way to be used as windows, as one can see in all the towns around the desert, especially in Strata. However, they have found their way to the big library in New-Santhala as well. They are often seen as half-transparent window cover in temples. The other varieties, which break in smaller pieces are needed for the pottery in Uderza.
The northern part of the Grounds offers other resources: Herbs and medical plants are growing in abundance. The altling cactus is harvested and sold in the north, mostly to the clerics of Seyella. Amuwen describes its use as follows:
|Its skin is cut and used as a hallucinogenic, either eaten raw, or more commonly boiled in a tea, or dried and then eaten. Many priests and priestesses use this cactus to aid in creating prophetic 'visions'.|
Though the lofoforalt cactus has stronger hallucinogens, it is only used by the
Shendar themselves in certain
History. There is no evidence, that a sentient race settled in the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds in earlier times. The Shendar seem to be the first who set their foot in the vast valley. They had settled already in Bardavos and Varcopas, explored the Open Woodlands and found the lakes of the Seven Jewels before venturing deeper into the Nirmenith Mountains. Derived from that it is assumed, that the first group of Shendar discovered the valley not before 2500 b.S., probably later. The gate to the south was found in the years after the Atonement, when the weather had not yet settled to normal and travelling in the hot south, crossing the southern mountains and the adjacent Lands of Pain was easier. The smallest and most dangerous path, that form the valley to Uderza was discovered far later and partly constructed to have a quicker access from and to the pottery town.
Nobody knows when exactly the Shendar started to bond with the aj‘nuvics of the Grounds, nor when the two maidens, the mi‘ca hills, were found, nor the first gems collected, or the properties of the mithrilan discovered. Maybe once when the ancient Shendar time measurement is correlated with our present Santharian calendar, more precise dates available.
Many have tried to find the way into the valley, to force a Shendar, to bribe a Shendar. But though one or two might have been successful, access was and is so difficult to find, that despite the wonders and wealth which might be gained in the valley nobody really succeeded to actually lead a whole group into the grounds. Of course, the Shen-Kha‘si are very reluctant in sharing their secrets, and so only few Non-Shendar have ever seen the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds.
Lore. Every time, when a Shendar child comes back from its bonding with an aj‘nuvic, when the injérá has set, the nightly fires burn high and the meals for the feast are prepared, following saga is told:
The Bonding of the First Shendar.
There was once a time, when the aka‘pi was the friend of the Shendar
already for a long time, when it carried her and her loads, when it gave
its wool, its fur and its meat and milk to provide the tribe with all it
needed. But the Shendar had not yet found their truest friend, their
partner of life, their personal aj‘nuvic. For what is more reliable than
an aj? Your children will leave you if they come into the age to look for
a partner, your wife or husband may well search pleasure elsewhere, your
relatives might dislike you. But who stays with you, regardless what you
do and who you are? It is your aj‘nuvic. And this is the story how the
first Shendar, a girl with the name Aki'ira, bonded with her aj:
Mythology. The "Shendar Book of Myths" tells us how the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds came into being: How Baveras had managed to persuade Urtengor to rise the earth and make mountains so huge, that they would capture the clouds drifting in from the Aetryam Sea, how Etherus stepped on it to demolish his work out of pure mischief, but created this way the Aj'Nuvics Grounds.
How the Aj'Nuvic Grounds Came Into Being.
Urtengor had forged the Nirmenith Mountains, and they stood high and proud
and the clouds Grothar sent in from the sea gathered far below the tops;
and it rained or even snowed and the water came to the desert, running
down the mountains on both sides in little streams and rivulets which made
the desert green at the base of the stock and even farer into the desert.
However, not all gods are benevolent, and as Baveras was proud and
celebrated having overcome the pressing heat Foiros, the fire god, had
imposed on the desert, that water had finally beaten the fire, another god
of fire looked with displeasure at her - Etherus. He didn‘t want actually
to take Foiros‘s side or to help him in any way, for that he was much to
self-centred, but Baveras's joy was nothing he could stand either, so he
decided to dampen her delight. He went to have a look at this marvellous
mountain stock. And with an evil grin on his beautiful face he stepped
right on it with his right foot. His left he placed just south of the
mountains, and then he was gone again.
The tale you hear most often however is one which tells us one more time from the love of Grothar and Baveras:
How the Fog at the Aj'Nuvic Grounds got its Name.
The Nirmenith Mountains reached high into the sky to catch the high
sailing clouds Grothar send this way every winter and fall. But though
there was plenty of water at times, especially in the north, it got scarce
in summer and autumn. And the Aj‘Nuvic Grounds suffered greatly under the
hot burning sun, the distance between them and Injérà being far closer than
to the rest of the desert. So Baveras went again to see her lover, asking
him if he couldn‘t send more rain to the high plain. Grothar loved Baveras
very much, but for reasons only he knows he didn‘t want to send more
clouds towards the desert for the Grounds. However, he strengthened the
winds blowing in from the sea, and so the clouds forming in the
cloudforests are sometimes lifted up to the high plain - and bring relief
to the suffering land. This marvellous fog, clouds lying on the ground,
are therefore called Baveras‘ Gift or Grothar‘s Relief.
Information provided by Talia Strumwind