In the beginning, there was a continent with a western shore, covered in mountains, plains, and rather damp forests. It looked something like is represented on the rough map below.
In the beginning of history, a small group of kalmaei which woke in the forest they later called the Yallakedma began to spread along the river, north and south. They just wandered, living off the land (and a great deal off the rivers) and living in rough shelters. Some of them practiced a sort of martial arts in order to fend off wild animals, especially in winter when the larger predators (the ones that weren’t sleeping, anyway) were hungrier and more aggressive.
(Notes: Kalmaeirin names will come later, and light grey is sort of hilly, nondescript, lightly wooded terrain.)
They kept wandering until the group led by Flar ventured out onto the grasslands west of the forest, and encountered horses. Meanwhile, the spreading of the people was slowly splitting the original group into distinct subgroups as they slowly multiplied and went where their curiosity took them. Their settlements were somewhat more permanently constructed than previously, and even though they still moved every decade or so, their small villages had walls and more and more sophisticated architecture, possessions, and detail. The horses (which through trade soon spread throughout the settled lands and became more used by wanderers than boats) helped a great deal in letting them gather more belongings, because they could carry a great deal – and pull carts.
As yet, the kalmaei dealt mostly in wood for building, and leather for clothing. Metalworking was rare, but not unknown, and weaving was widespread but expensive.
With the arrival of the horse, exploration and settling accelerated. While keeping to the rivers was more or less the accepted practice, for safety, surety of food and water, and convenience of travel for ordinary people who may or may not have horses, and certainty of not getting lost, thanks to the efforts of some intrepid wanderers they explored across the Free Plains to the Skyland Lake, south until they met a tributary leading to the Wide For Geese Lake, and all over the Whiteflash Plains to the southern edge of the Greentops forest. They even journeyed over the dangerous mountain passes into the bleak Dragon Valley, pausing at the edge of the Jadelake, and west to the ocean.
At about this time Flar founded the City of the Moonland (see map of countries, at the bottom of the page) not near the plains where the horses originally lived, but in the curve of the Forest River, deep in the Rain Forest (hey, it’s wet. What would you call it?). It was a small town, with a wooden wall built from the area cleared over time for farming.
Then the unicorns came. (blue patch at north on map below) Though they did not impact the exploration perhaps directly, they had great influence on future events. They did, however, inspire the kalmaei to name the Horn Ridge and the Whiteflash Plains
Meanwhile the kalmaei explored to the top of the Dragon Plateau (at that point simply named Dry Plateau), and to the bottom of the Dragon (then Dry) Valley. The southern people ventured ever further on the river they called Willows River, broad and slow and lined with trees, which they later came to know that thanks to the massive river system throughout the mountains was the longest river in their lands. The kalmaei settled at the sea built ships, and sailed around the coast, not being terribly adventurous north, but sailing south around Isolation Point until they found the Salmon’s Rest Islands.
The people had split into four without really realizing it by this point, but their chieftains still regarded each other as friends and equals, meeting nearly once a year, usually in the Moonland city, since it was the most central. Settlements were springing up right and left, and some were made of stone, particularly in the Dry Valley people, who had something of a wood shortage to begin with. The southern plains people, not so much. They were many of them hunters and lived in tents, except in winter, when they would retreat to villages by the lakes.
With the arrival of the unicorns, the arrival of the dragons and griffons was not far behind. Flying far out of the east (across already-worn-down hills and before that a great shallow sea) they arrived in the Grass Surrounded By Trees first. From there, the dragons gravitated of their own accord north to the dry mountain valleys, and the griffons spread across the plains.
Not long after they arrived, Erd began building his city on the foot of the Horn Ridge, of stone, hoping to make it one of the most beautiful things in a land filled with beauty. His people were intimately connected to the unicorns now, relying on them and being relied on in turn. They spread west, living particularly in the forests, though major trading centres sprang up along the rivers. They built some port cities to trade with the Moonland, and settled on the northern island of Skywater (named for the rain). Of note on the other side of the country is the city of Cloudpass, a small-ish city but a vital rest point for travellers to the Dragonland.
For the Dragonland was becoming well known for its wealth, in metals, jewels, masons and metalworkers, and general craftsmanship. It was not entirely thanks to the dragons that the Dragonland kalmaei became hunters of metal and jewels, but they certainly helped considerably. That land became thickly populated in the interior valleys. Grass Surrounded By Trees became a land of farms (and I realize I forgot to put in their villages. Oops!) Their capital at the south end of Jadelake was actually partly a small moutain, built on top of and tunnelled under until one could hardly tell where mountain left off and city began, vertically speaking.
The Griffonland kalmaei spread across the plains gladly, and with their close-knit partnership mapped out the rest of the land in rough detail for the rest of the countries, particularly the enigmatic Knife’s Majesty Mountains, which many had tried to penetrate – but not all returned. In fact, the Griffonlanders were perhaps the least ambitious of the kingdoms, probably because their climate was significantly warmer than the rest of the lands, though their winters were still cold. Their largest city and capital was built at the source of a tributary feeding into the Wide For Geese Lake, but it was not nearly as grand as the other capitals. It was mostly constructed of wood or brick with tall airy towers, rather than stone.
The Moonland, with their established seaport(s), soon made the acquaintance of Oldstone Island and settled there, in addition to their settlements on the Salmon’s Rest Islands. The main kingdom was somwhat awkwardly situated in the centre of the other kingdoms, claiming all of the Rain Forest and the Free Plains, but not the Yallakedma itself which belonged to the Unicornland. Being the kingdom with the longest permanently-settled capital, Flar was asked to in name take charge of the people of the kalmaei as a whole, even if in effect that meant nothing much except that his city continued to be used as a international meeting place.
The yellow portions on the map are those that are farmed. Purple is the Nunathoemlen (Unicornland), blue is the Lilemlen (Moonland), red is the Arrckemlen (Dragonland), and orange is the Kiirstemlen (Griffonland).
About names, in order from right to left, top to bottom, on the above map:
Skywater Island – it rains A LOT there.
Quickfish Forests – a fertile spawning ground for salmon.
Iceriver Peaks – covered in glaciers, particularly at the northern end where they just slide into the ocean.
Glacierlake – a deep hollow filled with glacier runoff.
North Wall – the name given to the mountains that block off casual travel to the north, to the boreal forests and eventually the tundra.
North Forest – on the other side of Iceriver Peaks from Quickfish Forests, it’s north of The Wilderness.
Valleys Meet Here River – This main river has many tributaries, each with its own valley.
The Wilderness – A nondescript area not much good for farming or forestry, though it does have good hunting.
Lonely Beach – a medium sized trading city built solely for trading with the Moonland by sea. Somewhat marshy in surroundings.
Western Spires – they’re west of the Unicornland capital.
Sanddepth Lake – The edges are all made of glacier-borne sand. As far as they know, that’s what the floor is right to the bottom of its icy-cold waters.
Riverbirth – maybe not the source of the Hemmed In River, but close to it.
Hemmed In River – flanked by the sheer Western Spires on one hand and the bulk of Greentops on the other. (still a fairly heavily wooded area, but not with evergreens)
Greentops – the evergreen forest covering most of the north of the Unicornland.
Horn Ridge – named because a few of the small peaks resemble unicorn horns. It juts out of the surrounding forest unapologetically, a remnant of an old outcrop from the North Wall.
Whiteflash Plains – unicorns come here to run, though they prefer to live permanently in the forests.
Yallakedma – Song Forest, where the Lady Zela lives and where the kalmaei first gathered, celebrating their lives in song.
Oak Bend – this city was built in an oak forest on a riverbank.
Coldfall – this river has not warmed up much since it leapt out of the mountains.
Coldmeet – a mining city up where the Coldfall meets its sister river Plunging.
Plunging – this river has so many waterfalls along its length, until it meets the Coldfall, that some say it simply falls from its source straight down to Coldmeet.
Mountaingate Forest – it was exploring through this forest that led straight to the Snowglory Mountains and beyond to Dragon Plateau.
Cloudpass – often foggy, but worth it. A major trading centre between the Unicornland and the Dragonland, and a welcome stop for travellers.
Blossom Bay – when the kalmaei first landed, the shores of this lovely bay were covered in cherry blossoms.
The Tower – this city is built on a proud hilltop.
Oldstone Island – this large island is still rising out of the sea from plate tectonics, but the tops of its peaks are already blunted as with giant sandpaper.
Heads Rising Islands – active volcanos.
Salmon’s Rest Islands – actually, salmon don’t spawn – or rest – on these islands, but it is a good place to find them while fishing at certain times.
Sundance’s Landing – named for the husband of the captain who first landed her ship there.
Green Peak – this city is on a hill clothed with evergreens.
Lirar-Moihh – Sun-Path, THE harbour city of the Moonland – and indeed of the Adhemlenei. Has a pretty good view of the sunset.
Forest Delta – where the Forest River meets the sea.
Rainmist Comes Here – a small mountain range that is extremely damp. But very beautiful.
The Horns – another ancient mountain range, jutting out from the earth aggressively.
Skyland Lake – it looks like the sky, but it’s land, except it’s actually a lake.
Blue Skyland – a small city on the edge of the lake, which is indeed very blue.
Forest River – the last half of its course is entirely within the Rain Forest.
Free Plains – are wide and free.
Horseland – the city that grew up around the settlement that grew up around the place where horses were first found.
Rain Forest – it rains here. A lot. And it’s drippy when it’s not raining, too.
Woodbank – a city on the edge of the river, on a day when someone was feeling unimaginative.
Snowfall – the snow that falls on the mountains in winter melts in spring and falls down waterfalls to join the Loudlaugh River. It’s a mining city.
Loudlaugh River – a noisy, energetic river that flows the entire length of the Dragon Plateau and Dragon Valley.
Dragon Plateau – once the Dry Plateau, once the dragons settled there it became much more interesting.
Snowglory Mountains – they are absolutely stunning in winter.
Silverhead – a city at the head of Silverlake.
Silverlake – a lake which is actually turquoise most of the time, due to the high concentration of minerals dissolved naturally in the water. But it freezes over in winter.
Inner Peaks – the dry mountains that separate the Dragonland from the further inner valleys, and eventually the other side with the hills and the shallow sea and so on.
Sandhill – a city built in a particularly dry spot.
Dragon Valley – once the Dry Valley, now the dwelling place of large winged fire-breathing sentient lizards.
High Bend – a mining town built in the curve of the Roundabout River.
Jadelake – named for its summer colour, and is awfully like Silverlake.
Roundabout River – explorers charting this twisty river got lost so many times it eventually wasn’t funny anymore.
Dragon’s Bite – a ridge of mountains sticking out towards the Moonland.
Valleyheight – a city built on a high plateau surrounded by mountain peaks.
Fieldview – a city built on the edge of the forest surrounding Grass Surrounded By Trees, and one of the prime trading sources of the interior Dragonland’s food.
Fill In Lake – obviously caused when the Roundabout River found a depression in the mountains and just filled it up before continuing on its way over top.
Grass Surrounded By Trees – a large open grassland, now heavily farmed. The soil is somewhat rocky, though. Uncertain as to why the trees didn’t simply grow over top of it when they were fine growing around it.
Isolation Point – a place that was never really explored for the longest time. A bleak landscape when you get out there.
Splashground – the shallow delta where the Willows River (by then the Mountainfoot River) meets the sea. Also the Griffonland’s largest sea-trading port.
Mountainfoot River – actually the Willows River, but the first explorers didn’t realize that until much later, because it curves around to the south so much.
Willowplace – a city on the Willow River, built in a particularly thick concentration of the trees.
There Was A Hole Here In The Land – a large shallow lake, similar to the Fill In Lake – and the Griffonlanders have a sense of humour.
Lakehead – the city at the head of There Was A Hole Here In The Land.
Longest River – the name given to the Willow River after they determined that it, in fact, was the longest known river.
Land of Open Sky – the majority of the Griffonland is covered in wide sweeping prairie.
Resting Place – the first settlement built when wanderers first came to Wide For Geese Lake.
Wide For Geese Lake – the origin of this name has been since shrouded in mystery. Why would it be too wide for geese?
Place Where Salmon Part – a city built at the point where the Northway River joins the Roundabout River.
Northway River – heads almost straight south for some reason, until bending around and hitting the mountains. That is, if you’re heading upriver.
Whitemeet – the city built where the Loudlaugh River meets the Roundabout River.
North Eagle’s Nest – the north end of a mountain range over which one can often see a griffon, if not an actual eagle.
South Eagle’s Nest – the other end of the above.
Brightbird Forest – there really are some exotic and noisy birds here.
Backlash River – it curves back on itself so sharply that at one point the stream has eroded its way under a higher-up portion of itself. Bets are being taken as to when the upper portion wears through and creates a spectacular waterfall.
Knife’s Majesty Mountains – some of the most beautiful mountains in the world – and some of the most dangerous.
Eastern Grass Plateau – a well-endowed interior plateau in the mountains.
Water Meet – a huge interior lake with many, many, many water paths meeting in it.
Angelleap River – has some gorgeous waterfalls along it.