The Ruin of Arda Keldoth
The Ruin of Arda Keldoth is one of the oldest myths in Issine lore, and exists in nearly identical form in many other human societies. Many religious officials hold it as truth, though recently a number of people (mostly eccentrics) have begun to speculate that something other than the gods may have been responsible for delving the Moonharrow. A version of the myth found in Penna’s Tales of the Ancient North follows:
This is a true story.
Once, long ago, before the world was filled with fire, a great empire existed in the north, spread all along the shores of the Lyran Sea (then called the Serpentine Sea). This empire was called Lirennon, and Men and Halflings lived peacefully together within its borders. Many, many years they lived in peace, worshipping the goddess Issa and the goddess Arda and all the other spirits in Eren. All the gods and goddesses they held equal, but their adoration for the Sky-Goddess Issa was unrivaled.
So great was their adoration for Issa that the Emperor ordered the High Priest of the Issine order to build a great tower in her honor. The High Priest dutifully set to work, designing a tower as tall as the peak of the White Mountain – and the White Mountain was taller in those days before the Moonharrow was delved – and built with blocks carved from Arda Keldoth, the great Mountain-home of the Earth-Goddess Arda. The people of Lirennon toiled for many cycles of the moon, led by a hardworking and honest Foreman named Pym, and the tower reached closer and closer to the sky while Arda Keldoth shrank, its rocky slopes scarred by countless quarries.
Angered by this, Arda stormed about her mountain halls, shaking the very earth. The base of the great tower cracked, a terrible slight against the Sky-Goddess, and Issa’s fury flashed like lightning in the sky. Arda came came out of her Mountain-home and called out to Issa, demanding that she strike down the Foreman for his insolence. This Issa did, despite Pym’s righteousness; she was wary of Arda’s fury, for Arda’s strength and prowess in battle were well-known across all the lands of Eren.
Arda saw this, saw that Pym was struck down by one of Issa’s bolts, but she was not appeased. She shook the earth again, and demanded of Issa another recompense: the life of the High Priest, high atop the tower in prayer. Issa hesitated, but she feared the wrath of Arda, and so again she did as the Earth-Goddess commanded and struck him down, despite his righteousness.
With this sacrifice, Arda was appeased for a short time, and her fury abated. But she is not like Issa, whose fury is fierce and powerful but quickly subsides. Arda’s anger may ebb like a tide, but like a stone remains hard and steadfast, and soon enough it returned in search of a new sacrifice. Arda demanded the death of the Emperor’s only child, a daughter devoted to the worship of Issa. Though she feared Arda’s wrath, Issa refused this; those women dedicated to Issa are sacred, and it is a great blasphemy to harm them, or to allow them to come to harm.
Arda flew into a rage, and threatened to strike the girl down herself. She left her mountain halls and loomed large on the mountain itself, but Issa’s brother Väarus, the god of fire, blocked her path. He forbade her to ascend into the sky, and they fell to arms and fought, setting fire to the great slopes of Arda Keldoth. Long and hard they fought, and Väarus nearly smote the Earth-Goddess twice, but Arda’s strength was the greater. Thus she prevailed, leaving Väarus half-ruined on the mountainside.
Her path now clear, she began to ascend into the sky, searching for Issa among the clouds. The Sun-God Rhöemma grew fearful of her rage, and hid behind the heavens, bringing night upon Eren. High and low Arda searched, but she could not find Issa – the Sky-Goddess was not in her home.
At last, she flew up to the Moon, asking her if she had seen Issa. The Moon said that she had not, but Arda persisted, thinking that the Moon was harboring Issa upon her face. Again the Moon said that she was not, but again Arda persisted. The Moon, unaccustomed to rage, struck out at the Earth-Goddess in fear. Not expecting such an attack from the peaceful Moon, Arda fell back, losing her balance among the stars. She tumbled to Eren, her rage burning fiery bright, and was dashed upon Arda Keldoth, her own mountain.
The once-mighty mountain was obliterated in a tremendous fiery catacylsm, and the body of Arda delved the Moonharrow deep into the ground. The last of Arda’s dying rage spread across the land, charring it to ash, and many were killed. For many days Rhöemma hid beneath the heavens, and the Moon was too afraid to show her face. When at last she came out, Issa sprang from her hiding place upon the Moon’s face, and upon seeing the destruction that Arda’s wrath had wrought, she wept for six and thirty days.
As the fires still raged, strange new creatures appeared from beneath the ruined mountain: Gnomes and Dwarves, who had been the slaves of Arda. To the south fled Ork, the God of War – even he could not bear the destruction of so many – and with him fled his followers, who took the name of Orcs in his honor. To this day they wander the Great Southern Wastes, and though the Wastes have made their appearance grim and beastly they are still honorable fighters, and fair and just in war.
After the cataclysm another fled as well: the daughter of the Emperor, whom the legends name Sera. She undertook a great journey, told in other tales, fleeing east to the great river Hellasín with a small band of followers from the court of her doomed father. Upon its banks they founded a city, which she named Haven, as it was the only safe place among the fire and ash that covered all the land. Around the city of Haven the Kingdom of Issa grew, named to honor the goddess who had refused to take the girl’s life, and Sera was its first queen.
Other kingdoms rose out of the ashes, but none rose from the Moonharrow, where Arda had crashed down to Eren. Issa came down from the sky, and with the remains of the great tower built a cairn over the spot where Arda had fallen, a great mountain of stone that glistened in the sunlight, throwing off all the colors of Issa’s rainbow. With the help of Moon and her brother Simi, God of the Night, Issa gathered stars from the heavens and planted them as trees around the cairn, so as to make a proper tribute to the fallen Arda – for despite her great and terrible rage, Arda was still revered by all the gods and goddesses, and was counted among the oldest of their number.
And beneath the cairn Arda still sleeps, even to this day able to shake all of Eren with her snoring. One day she will awaken and again fill the sky with her wrath, and Arda and Issa will fight, after the Fading when the Moon is not there to cast the Earth-Goddess down. Issa still fears the wrath of Arda, but she is preparing for the final battle, and even today one can hear her thunder when she clashes shield and spear. One day they will fight, and one day everything will again turn to ash, but Issa will emerge victorious and smite Arda upon the stone, quieting her wrath for all time.
Myths related to the Delving are by no means confined to Human lore. Halfling tales are for the most part identical to those of Humans, which is to be expected given the intertwined nature of Human and Halfling society prior to the Delving. Stories relating to the Delving also exist in the Dwarven and Gnomish mythos (See the Tale of Vesterholm), as would be expected given the event’s cataclysmic nature, though their prevalence seems to drop off in societies farther from the Moonharrow itself. Dwarven stories in particular seem to differ significantly from those of Human origin, most notably in the status of Dwarves and Gnomes before the Delving; the stories of the chthonic peoples, while not denying Arda’s existence or role in the Delving, tend to overlook or outright refute the notion that they were the slaves of that goddess. If anything, their accounts seem to hold her in higher regard than the accounts of the surface races, which often paint Arda as a blind, furious force of nature, worthy of little respect, and little more than feared and pitied by the other deities.
Notably missing from this reckoning is any contribution from the Orcs, save for a handful of tales that tell of a great fire “in the North”, and a gradual dying of the land. It is possible, though, that the followers of Ork (should that part of the tale prove true) were few enough in number, and recovered slowly enough, that any detailed accounts of the Delving were lost, or simply never recorded. Certainly the Orcs hold Ork in high regard, and regard him as the progenitor of their race, so there seems to be some merit in the Southern Migration theory of their origin.