Kaybrel and Tavio wander through the famed marketplace of Lek Doe, the greatest trading center of Western Methgoa during the Great Lacuna…
They bought gloves. They found some shirts that met Tavi’s approval, for no more than the rejected merchant’s price. They ate some more—fresh, hot bread, grilled meat of an indeterminate bird, squash deep-fried in bubbling lard. They watched a magician, paid to see a trained bear dance, bypassed innumerable beggars, explored a museum of curiosities and monstrosities—the two-headed lamb, the fire-eating dwarf, the noisy metal twirling contraption said to be part of an ancient Mercan flying cart, the boulder etched by a lightning strike with the triple face of the Espanyo god, and similar marvels. They bought new dungarees for both Tavi and Kay—Tavio lost the day in his campaign for something more suave than the loose Okan-style pants that Kay regarded as sensible and manly.
“They could fly, huh? The Old Ones?” said Tavio, taken by the wonders they had seen.
“Sure. So could their cows,” said Kay.
Hapa Cottrite, the mysterious scribe of the Fire-Rider saga, lived during the Great Lacuna. If you read much of the saga, you realize the Great Lacuna was a dark and scary time. But when was it? And what was it?
Methgoan archaeologists and historians living today, several thousand years after the Great Lacuna, believe that about 2,600 years before Hapa Cottrite’s time, a vast empire covered the Methgoan continent and extended down into the southerly continents. This enormous civilization, which spread from seashore to seashore, was built by a technologically advanced people called Mercans, or, some scientists believe, Americans or Emericans. The empire was named Merca, after its inhabitants.
Archaeologists believe that the Mercan Empire thrived for about three to four hundred years. That figure is in question, because so little is known about the culture’s origins and evolution that its beginnings are shrouded in the fog of time. We do know that an abrupt planet-wide climate change occurred approximately 5,900 years ago, and that its effects brought a swift end to the Mercan era.
The Mercan Empire collapsed — as did similar technologically driven cultures on the other side of the globe — when world-wide warming and severe drought set in. Untameable wildfires leveled forests, grasslands, and agricultural fields and fierce storms brought insanely powerful windstorms, uncontrollable floods, and bizarre bouts of unseasonable cold. As crops failed everywhere, famine and disease spread rapidly.
Large numbers of Mercans died in the face of these uncontrollable events. Those who knew how to operate the technology that made it possible to support vast populations concentrated in city died off. With too few survivors to keep power, water, and food running, the cities experienced catastrophic population collapse.
In short order, the Mercans effectively went extinct.
We mark this population collapse as the beginning of the Great Lacuna, a long Dark Age that extended until the start of the Present Era (about 1 P.E.). The Great Lacuna is also called the Inter-Historical Era, because written history — and anything else put in writing — ended with the demise of the Mercan civilization. History as we know it, as a science, did not revive until after the beginning of the Present Era, with the rise of the Early Methgoan cultures.
The few survivors of the continental population collapse spread into the countryside, seeking land on which to grow subsistence crops and enough water to do so. Separate Espanyo and Hengliss peoples emerged at this time, with the Hengliss migrating northward toward the cooler and wetter climes and the Espanyo occupying the rest of the continent. Over time, these broad ethnic groups coalesced into tribal societies, and by about 2600 years BPE (Before the Present Era), the various cultures had established an agrarian system that provided some equilibrium.
“Equilibrium” is a relative term. In fact these tribes lived in constant conflict, warring over territory and dwindling resources.
The constant warfare was not helped by the onset of the Ice Age, about 1450 years BPE, or approximately 4350 years before our time. At about the same time the carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses that had contaminated the atmosphere were subsiding through geologic processes, the planet’s course around the sun was perturbed by an orbital alignment with the gigantic plants Jupiter and Saturn. Gravitational forces distorted the earth’s orbit, pulling it further from the sun and causing a period of global cooling.
Food and water became even scarcer; seaside settlements were left high and dry as water was locked up in snow and ice and shorelines receded. Growing seasons grew shorter, life grew commensurately harder, and competition for resources intensified ferociously. The agrarian tribes developed a keen interest in killing their neighbors and taking over their lands.
Hapa Cottrite flourished during the darkest part of this grim period, about 935 years BPE or about 2800 years before our day. Evidently cast out of the powerful trading center, Lek Doe, possibly because of his revolutionary tendencies, Cottrite was thrown in with the Okans and their A’oan allies under Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel, Devey Mayr of Metet, and Eddo Kubna of Bose. A close observer, Cottrite watched, studied, and wrote down what he learned of the fierce northern peoples.
Did the Espanyo and Hengliss peoples of ancient Socalia, Galifone, Foshinden, Okan, and A’o have an inkling that they sprang from an almost magically privileged civilization? Apparently so, but the extent to which they did is not known today.
We do know that Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek acquired his healing lore inside the walled province of Uda, which normally excluded foreigners. Udans had a number of intellectual and technical traditions, not the least of which had to do with hygiene and pharmacopia, that had come down from the ancient Mercans. And we know that all the tribal peoples of far Western Methgoa spoke of vaguely remembered ancestors called “The Old Ones.”
In Book IV, for example, when Kaybrel tries to distract his friend Fallon from the question of Tavio’s haunts, he remarks, “But we know the truth, don’t we—the ancient writings from the Old Ones tell us what’s true.”
There were writings, evidently religious in nature, that could be read in a crude way by a few religious votaries trained to parse out meaning—possibly imagined meaning—from works said to have come down from the ancestors.
Whatever information they had about their predecessors would have been handed down by word of mouth, in a long and ancient oral tradition. Such stories must have been regarded as folklore or children’s tales. A man of Kaybrel’s native intelligence may have regarded them skeptically. But enough men and women knew about them and took them literally to support the occasional side-show huckster.