The One River
Turn your tears unto the people.
We will be your joy along with the otter and seagall
Feed the Unilynn with your dreams.
We will be one with you, that is all we need.
Mantra used by local people, thought to bolster the river spirit and provide balance.
The Great Flood
Lutra sat in the Red Stirge Inn in Etonia sipping on mead, while the conversation went on around her. She was far from home. Her path here had been as chaotic as the Unilynn. Thirty years ago it burst out of its channel. It expanded far past its traditional flood plain. She had escaped that onslaught with her husband, Oorsahn.
Like their parents, they had grown up on the meandering lakes and channels that made up the Unilynn. The entire breadth of the region was one wide river. Everything in their lives revolved around the river, villages floated on the river. The river provided energy, food, and safety from neighboring kingdoms. Their culture believed a water spirit fed the land to produce so much water and protect them.
When the Great Flood came they were not afraid and had all the skills to navigate such a challenge. Oorsahn and her were among the first units of rangers to investigate the source of the flood. Many streams fed the tributaries that merged into the Unilynn. But, the spiritual source was a cave at the first mountain in the Shortspine Range.
As their unit approached, a wretched creature burst from the cave. It turned like it had dropped something. Thirty arrows could be seen sticking from its back. The rangers opened fire thinking it had attacked the water spirit. Their arrows, drawing on their magical connection to the river, split into hundreds of shards. The shards hit the creature like wave after wave pounding the beach. When it fell, it's body dissolved into a black ooze.
That day they discovered it wasn't a water spirit feeding the land but a breach with another domain. Elves poured from the cave, in persuit of the evil the rangers had slain. Kindred souls from the mirror side, an alliance was founded that day to protect the waters on both sides the breach. Like many victories it was only one small step in the wider journey. For years before and after that Lutra could feel the river, but that would not last.
Artie brought another round of drinks back from the bar. "Ok, I want to hear Lutra's story next." She was sitting with Artie and three other Arrows. They were part of a military unit called Ardelis' Arrows. Ardelis was Lutra's son.
"Well, you know already know. Ardelis called me here." She slyly added "...to keep you kids all in line." The others at the table chuckled. Artie was 25. The twins Jacques and Yvette were not even 20. Jenna was the oldest at just over 30, around the same age as Ardelis.
"Oh, come on." Artie pushed back. "We need some good stories as ammunition to use against Ardelis!"
Lutra sighed. "Really I was simply summoned by Lavani like Ardelis, there isn't much to tell."
"Wait. Ardelis got here before Lavani." Artie had been hoping for some juicy detail and he was quick to pick up on that.
"Sure, before she was Mayor of Montsilt. He heard her call for help when she was exorcised from her tree. Although he didn't know it was her at the time." Lutra explained.
The twins and Jenna stopped laughing at Artie's attempts to get information and leaned forward to listen in. Yvetta pointed out, "Ardelis was hundreds of miles away when that happened. How did he hear her?"
Lutra tried to just stick to the facts, like it wasn't a big deal, "Where I come from, we are often summoned by nature. Like his father before him, Ardelis was summoned to a forest far away. I was proud that he had been called upon."
Tip of the Iceberg
The others were exchanging glances. This was like the tip of the iceberg. Jenna asked a question first, "I lost my sister to the same men that exorcised Lavani. Ardelis told me one time that he knew what it was like to lose a family member. What happened to Ardelis' father?"
Lutra sat back in her chair and let out another sigh. After a few moments she leaned forward and put her elbows on the table to share her tale. "After the Great Flood, we had 10 years of relative calm. Ardelis was born in that time. When he was 8 or so, the river started to dry up. Hundreds of years of history fading away in months. Bandits and neighboring kingdoms starting to encroach on our land. It was during this time that Ardelis' father, Oorsahn, heard a call for help very much like Ardelis heard. It came from the source of the Unilynn. It is likely he crossed over to the mirror domain there to help them restore the flow of the water. He did not return."
The others were stunned. Yvette blurted out, "You didn't want to go after him?" Jacques put his hand on his sister's arm but kept his eyes looking toward the floor. He had fallen in the Battle of Pale Gear. Yvette went back for him.
"Of course I did, but I had Ardelis to look after and what was left of the river. There was barely enough water to keep the main channel flowing year round. The trees changed as the old mangroves couldn't live without the water and grasslands become dominant. I was busy tending to our home and protecting what was left of it. When Ardelis sent word for me, there wasn't really anything left but I would have stayed until the end." Lutra paused. A twinge of sadness reflected in her face.
She continued, "Enough of this, I don't talk of the past with regret. We have this forest to protect now. I never expected I would get another call from nature. I am proud of that, and that is what we need to focus on."
The table was quiet while everyone took a drink and digested what Lutra had shared. They were waiting for Ardelis to take them out on a mission. The details were sparse and ominous. Lutra's story left more questions but brought into sharp focus the dangerous responsibility they were shouldering.
A shallow, slow-moving flood of water 50 miles wide and over 100 miles long described the Unilynn in its prime. Moving southeast across a nearly flat, limestone shelf, the water flowed steadily to the ocean.
During the rainy season, an adjacent flood plain 40 miles wide would also be submerged. The water was an average of 4 to 5 feet deep. The deepest channels and lakes were 10-15 feet deep. Mangrove trees dominated region until the Great Flood. As the water receded tall saw grass (4 to 10ft) established itself in many areas.
Sloughs are deep sections of wetlands, in the Unilynn they were the main channels for water flow. As much of the basin dried out broad-leaf trees took over the highest elevations.
The weaving network of sloughs remained as intermittent streams across the land. Rich soil attracted settlers from the neighboring kingdoms that cleared the land for farming and filled in many sloughs.
The people of the river had a deep connection to the ecosystem. The most adept joined a spiritual order of monks or became rangers protecting the river. The population was small and dispersed, all systems of organization were de-centralized save for three settlements near the ocean and a council of elders.
These communities had a population of a few hundred but many more would come in from the Unilynn for trade and social events. Communal housing allowed the population to surge to several thousand multiple times a year. A myriad of aquaponic projects around these communities provided most of the food used locally and for external trade.
Parts, if not most, of the communities floated on the river, held in place by stakes into the river floor. The communal houses and other structures were built on stilts. The Mangrove forests stretched out into the ocean and provided protection from storms, as long as the community could adjust with the rising and falling water level.
Floating markets were common. Vendors gathered together to greet incoming trade vessels. Individual vendors take their 'shops' with them around the community. Several vendors navigated up the river to reach families and outposts deep in the Unilynn. Goods end up bartered as much as or more than coins exchanged. .
Being a Ranger
Forty percent of the population considered themselves rangers. They mobilized for defense many times in past generations. They followed an informal command structure based on seniority and experience. They outmatched armies of kings with the terrain, mobility, and emphasis on improvising.
When not mobilized, they were fishing, hunting, maintaining the waterways. Always looking for an opportunity to show Stewardship. Some refer to that Stewardship as their calling from the Unilynn.
Other rangers heard a calling to travel. Many sought locations around the world to protect nature. This had the effect of draining away a part of each generation. As the Unilynn receded, the call of the river faded and more rangers left. The farmers and traders moving into the region now outnumber the indigenous people.
I appreciate you reading my River Challenge article. Ardelis is a player character in my weekly home game and patreon supporter. We have brainstormed some of his family background but he didn't know what had happened to his father. This challenge presented a good opportunity to surprise him and the other players!