Having spent the past couple articles talking about general writing themes, I thought it might be time to return again to the world of “Tears from Iron” and the empire that Vistus calls home.
The cities of the Kayrstaran Empire hold a peculiar middling place in the minds of their people. For the humans, whether they be t’Okaedrin, Pi’aernoth, or Kalilaer, they are manifestations of the power and might of the Syraestari race. While humans, of their own devices, live without forged metals in simple huts of rough cut wood, mud, and grasses, here rise mighty and impregnable ramparts of dressed stone. Cities like Raefi’ernyn and Nahirazith’s greatest spires rise over a hundred feet high and, to Vistus’ eye, seemed to scrape the heavens. Yet their splendor isn’t just in their size, but in their details from arched colonnades to immaculate friezes. I think my favorite location, just like Ushtyl’s (though I don’t particularly care to have anything in common with such a man), is the ‘Room of Arching Cedars.’ Deep within the palace at Nahirazith, the four corners of the room are splayed like the branches of trees and, between them, the walls are of carved wood, so detailed as to nearly give life once again to the people portrayed therein.
What humanity sees as enormous, the Syraestari see as tiny, a thin veil separating the fragile threads of civilization from the chaos of the wilderness. This realization is particularly true for those who lived through the Great War such as Ushtyl, Sizras, and Tyrnis (and Ninanna in her own way as well). Having only forged a true realm a century ago, Nahirazith, Raefi’ernyn, and the other cities are but a shadow of what was lost. The greatest city of the Lost Age was Syrdranaethin which, Ushtyl remembers possessed a hundred spires, each different and perfect. With a population of only 1,300, not including the Pi’aernotha Kaupet, his Nahirazith is but a paltry echo of lost glory.
That is the way of the Kayrstaran Empire, such that even its name might be considered by some to be either a mockery or a hope. Focused around the nine cities of the realm, the empire claims an area about the size of Connecticut, with but a tiny fraction of the population. Most of its asserted land is untamed forest. The wildmen tribes who once lived there have all been enslaved or slain while the Scions consider it too close to their mortal enemy to linger long.
A major motif of for the Syraestari is their history. This derives in large part from the Schism where they broke with the Tirnaestari. It was in the struggles and loss of that divide that the Syraestari came to truly define themselves, their ambitions, their suffering, and their legacy. But they also often blend this with more natural motifs such as the corners of the ‘Room of Arching Cedars’ or the wide avenues of the city that allow trees to grow numerous and tall.
The largest buildings of the Syraestari cities are their palaces, especially the seat of the empress at Thusaeyanin, though the homes of the high lords are nearly as marvelous. With no enemies of remotely the same strength, the palaces are homes and not fortifications. For defense, the Syraestari rely on the outer bulwarks of their cities, the Imperial Legion, and of course, the t’Okaedrin and Pi’aernoth. The second largest building is always a temple erected in memory to the Etyni. In Nahirazith, the four corners of this building are held up by statues of Fenr, Itesa, Niella, and Zaris, the final four Etyni who stood against Cydion on the Hill of Kensethir at the end of the Great War. The third largest structure in Nahirazith is the Sorcerer’s Tower, home to the esteemed Lady Medreuneth and her acolytes.
In an empire sustained by slaves who, with the exception of the Pi’aernotha Kaupet, all live outside the city walls, there is no ‘poor’ district within their cities. Yet the Syraestari haven’t given up their toils. They turn their pursuits from the labors required for survival to the finer arts where everything crafted is a thing of beauty. But can a society fundamentally built upon the toils of others sustain any vibrancy? Only time will tell.