The current history of the Pharosi begins about 2000 years ago, when they stumbled dry, thirsty, exhausted, and determined from a sojourn through the Dunes of Endless Sun into the floodplain of the great river Do’ol set Maradha, the Lifeblood of the Mother. It was at the first sight of grass that the greatest Pharaoh of the time, Sek-Tabed III said unto his people “Burn the papyrus bearing our travels, bury the tomes that speak of Pharos. Tell your children nothing of what was before this moment, nor your children’s children. Let that dark place of death and ashes die away with our memories of it. The Pharosi are anew, and this step shall be our first. All stories of our past shall begin with this.” His words were true, and any evidence of what happened to their homeland of Pharos, why the Pharosi left, or any part of the journey across the Dunes of Endless Sun was forgotten, or at least hidden and buried. Regardless, questions about Pharos seldom arise as so much time and so many generations have passed that the floodplain is looked upon as the true home of the Pharosi. Their true history of the time before their exodus remains a mystery to this day. In the early years of Pharosi arrival, it is said to have been punishable by death to even speak of the Empires of Pharos.
When the Pharosi did make that first step onto the floodplain, they immediately began building a new empire. They proved to be much more technologically, educationally, and strategically superior to the native denizens of the river, and their coming quickly turned to conquest. Among the first peoples that the Pharosi encountered were the Shuka, a small race of desert-dwelling shamans and druids who had long populated the southern floodplain, and certain groups of the Nomadi. Both of these first contacts resulted in conflict, but the altercations with the Shuka in particular marked the first lengths of a long crusade. The Shuka were small and different and to the regal, haughty Pharosi, they were seen as insignificant and good only has slaves. Indeed, the Pharosi had enslaved similar smaller peoples in Pharos, and though they had been commanded to forget their former home, they could not help but remember how easy it was to build an empire on the backs of others. The Nomadi, on the other hand, were recognized as fellow humans, and were at least afforded a moderate amount of respect for that fact alone. The Nomadi were generally friendly with the Shuka, however, causing conflict with all of the groups. When the first attempts at enslaving the Shuka went poorly, it was true war that followed. With their strange and alien magic, the Shuka were labeled as blasphemers, and the Pharaohs and the Pharosi priests inflamed their people against them. It was not long before the Pharosi began a systematic elimination of the Shuka people, eventually killing or exiling them to the last. Those that were exiled were forced westward into the Dead Wastes, a graven land of misery and darkness. Whilst routing the Shuka, the Pharosi simultaneously worked to subdue the Nomadi, which was a much shorter affair. Aware that resistance would end badly for them, the Nomadi allowed the Pharosi to sweep across the southern floodplain.
As the Pharosi went north, they scattered the other denizens of the river until they were the sole power in the land. They ushered traveling Halflings into the surrounding lands, and drove the goblinoids out of the foothills. The Rapereans watched from the cliff tops and departed without a fight. Other groups of Nomadi, in accordance with the southerners, had no desire to leave the floodplain, and stepped aside. With all of their adversaries dealt with, the Pharosi set to work cultivating the land. They introduced controlled irrigation to the floodplain as they had done with rivers in Pharos, slowly turning the entire region into even more of a hospitable environment. By this time, the Pharosi had explored the southern third of the plain, with different Pharaohs leading groups in different directions, covering both sides of the river. These remaining Pharaohs would soon claim lands as their own and see to a widespread growth of Pharosi across the floodplain. They implemented sustained agriculture and animal husbandry, planting crops and building pastures along the river. After the farms came quarries and mills, which led to the first towns and cities. While some Nomadi integrated even more with the Pharosi, accepting these changes and finding solace in their new technologies, most returned to their vagrant lifestyle, though without the conflict with the Pharosi. The floodplain was a vast place, and the Nomadi could keep to themselves outside of the reach of the Pharaohs. The Pharaohs themselves spread out just as they had in the equally vast Pharos, to distance themselves from infighting over land and resources. In fact, during these times, the Pharaohs were quite cooperative – the shared desire to return their people to glory had done much to calm centuries of feuding bloodlines, for the Pharaohs readily understood that they could only reclaim their own glory if their people accomplished it as well.
The Pharosi learned from the Nomadi who remained. They were taught of the new crops and game as well as the geography of the land and of the surrounding peoples. They also learned of the great goddess of the Nomadi, Makah-Nihr. Very religious in their own right, the Pharosi had seen to the removal of most of the other local deities and religions, but the reverence of Makah-Nihr as the embodiment of the great river was so strong among the Nomadi that the Pharosi realized that they had to accept that deity in order to keep peaceful relations. It was during these generations of learning and building that Makah-Nihr became part of the Pharaonic pantheon.
As cities began to rise throughout the floodplain, the Pharosi began to explore it more intently. Their travels northward ultimately found the edge of the floodplain and that of the Empty Sea, a vast expanse of lush grassland populated by the Azrak hordes. The Azrak wanted nothing to do with these newcomers and barred their lands from them, but the Pharosi, ever subject to their pride and grandeur, let themselves in. The floodplain was a hospitable place, to be sure, and reminded the Pharosi much of their former home. But the Empty Sea was a land unlike they had ever seen – green grass as far as the eye could see, rich soil beneath. The Pharaohs would not be denied anything that they wanted. Despite the fact that their hold over the floodplain was still in its nascent stages, the Pharosi pushed onward into the Empty Sea. More war followed, but it soon became apparent that the Azrak, though less technologically advanced than the Pharosi, would not be undone as easily as the Shuka or the Nomadi. Their numbers were great, far greater than the Pharosi, and further, they had legions of horses. After a long string of defeats, the Pharosi realized that they must change their tactics. They had noticed that the Azrak never attacked by night, and eventually scouts were sent out, who reported that the Azrak people carried no weapons at night. They showed no signs of aggression, either, and their twilights were filled with communion and ritual. The Pharosi used this to their advantage, and launched a surprise attack on an Azrak group three times their own number, who did nothing to fight back against their attacks, even as they were butchered where they stood.
The next morning, the Pharosi were greeted with the greatest force that they had ever witnessed. Countless Azrak cavalry stormed down on the Pharosi forces, slaughtering all who did not escape. Having been witness to what the Azrak could truly muster, the Pharosi did not encroach upon the Empty Sea again. The damage, however, was done, and that starlit butchery incited the Azrak so vehemently against the Pharosi that the horsemen declared eternal war against them. This set the stage for two thousand years of raids, skirmishes, and battles along the border of the Empty Sea and the floodplain.
Still, the reign of the Pharaohs became stronger over the river lands. The Age of Pharaohs earned its name through the radical colonization of the region. Palaces to the God-Kings seemed to touch the desert sky and cities grew into great wonders. Enemies were dealt with and civilization improved. The lands of the floodplain became known as Rekkar-Sarrat, meaning River Provinces (a Sarrat being the expanse of land ruled by a Pharaoh). The next great change was not until a few centuries later, when ships came down the Lifeblood. Neither the Nomadi nor the Pharosi were shipwrights, their only vessels being small skiffs and rowboats to traverse the river and its channels. The transports that came down the river were true ships, however, and they carried gnomish travelers from beyond the desert. At first, the Pharosi were defensive, thinking some new group had come to challenge their authority, and were also jealous of these large vessels that glided down the water so easily. The gnomes aboard, however, proved to be friendly traders seeking new markets. They explained that they maintained a network of river-trade in their lands to the north that incorporated most of that region, and that they were looking to add new lands to it. Skeptical and hesitant of foreign influence, the Pharosi remained unconvinced until the gnome merchants gave gifts to the Pharaohs. Not only did they teach them of shipbuilding and sailing, but also introduced to them exotic goods of all sorts – fabrics, metals, scents, foods, and other luxuries from far-off realms. The Pharaohs and their people, ever in pursuit of anything luxurious or extravagant, were won over quickly by the gnomes, deeming them invaluable bringers of these amazing goods. They allowed the gnomes to bring their trade down the river and open up their lands as new markets for their network, and even allowed them to settle within their own lands. Such was a natural progression, as many Pharaohs and other wealthy and noble Pharosi were already hiring gnome merchants or craftsmen into their personal service to both secure lines of exotic goods into their ownership and to work and craft materials into symbols of their power. The gnomes quickly realized that if some of their kind stayed in the floodplain and opened up manufacturing facilities and shops, it would only improve their business. The gnomes’ introduction of the Lifeblood and Rekkar-Sarrat into their river-trade was the first step in forevermore linking the land of the Pharosi with larger trade routes.
For the next several centuries, Rekkar-Sarrat enjoyed a flourishing growth. The gnomes brought not only their own exotic goods down the river, but traders from other lands as well that brought even more business. The Pharaohs reaped the benefits for many, many years, stockpiling a wealth and grandeur that even the lost Empires of Pharos had never seen. However, as cities grew and more foreigners settled into the lands to ply their trades, tensions also began to rise. Pharaohs began to slip back into the ways of their ancestors, looking at the territories of one another with envy. The time of cooperation between Pharaohs was no longer necessary as they had mastered much of the floodplain and maintained stable civilization. Despite all that cooperation had granted them, the Pharaohs showed that they were still as grandiose and greedy as their kind always had been. The long period of flourish was punctuated by wars among the Pharaohs, and the political map of the floodplain changed several times throughout the centuries with different Sarrats coming in and out of existence.
Not only was there tension between the Pharaohs themselves, but between their culture and that of the traders that endlessly cascaded down the river. The Pharaohs, ever absolute in their authority, required any new settlers to be subject to their word, their law. Many traders dismissively accepted, thinking that such a prerequisite would be a mere formality. Paying trade taxes was not an unfamiliar practice, and they did so without qualm. It was, however, when the Pharaohs would exercise the level of mastery that they had over the Pharosi upon the foreign traders that things grew worse. Being forced to bow down to the Pharaohs, to honor them as God-Kings, to bestow gifts upon them, these were practices that infuriated the traders, who themselves came from dozens of different cultures. There was a short period where trade slowed, and merchants began to leave the area, unwilling to put themselves beneath a foreign king who demanded nothing short of worship. This the Pharaohs could not allow. Trade had brought them wealth and power beyond measure, and they would not simply allow it to slow. After a few violent altercations, the Pharaohs realized that they were walking on dangerous territory. Never before did the Pharaohs have to deal with people that were not their automatic subjects, slaves, or enemies. In the end, the Pharaohs offered foreigners the opportunity to be levied a small tax, giving them freedom of religion and exemption from their rule at the cultural level. With so much money being made by all, this tax was an easy price to pay for the traders, so business steadily made a return, though the Pharaohs still burned with resentment.
In a twist of hubris, the avarice of the Pharaohs proved to be the initial stage of their own undoing. As the generations passed and cities grew even more and trade increased and the Pharaohs focused more of their attention on one another, the Pharosi began to turn their backs on the golden light of their God-Kings to face the jingling of golden coins. Further, the fact that a mere bit of gold or goods allowed these foreign traders to be free of the Pharaohs’ tyrannical hold showed the Pharosi that profit held more power than their rulers. Gradually, people gravitated away from the Pharaohs, which naturally unleashed a new era of social tension. The Pharaohs were losing their subjects, people who had worshiped them for thousands of years. They were refusing to bow, refusing to gift their bounties, refusing to fight and die for empirical vanity. The Pharaohs did what they could to reeducate the people, forcefully putting them on their knees before the Pharaohs again. The God-Kings grew more and more despotic and paranoid, making shows of detractors through torture and executions, using their personal armies to corral the Pharosi back under their reign. But for every execution, and for every Pharosi forced to kneel, five others turned their backs to the Pharaohs. Their armies grew smaller, their pools of wealth shrank, their words lost authority. Trade, coin, goods, and profit became the new rulers of the people, and enterprise their government.
The power of the Pharaohs has seen continued decline for the past several hundred years, and now only a shadow of their former greatness remains. The surviving Pharaohs find themselves living in their palaces, but instead of revered beings perched atop their golden thrones they are now more akin to withered creatures taking shelter in dried husks. Though the Pharaohs still maintain a harsh level of control over the immediate locals (some Pharaohs have even gone so far as to close off their cities and trap their people within), any true reign they had has slipped like sand through their fingers.
Pharosi generally have tanned bronze or olive skin and narrow, dark eyes. Their hair is usually as black as ink and likewise lustrous, though it is common among Pharosi men to shave the head completely. Women often keep their hair long, styling it in complex fashions or adorning it with thread and jewelry. Facial hair is rare among the Pharosi, and body hair is sparse among both genders. They have a tendency to be tall (taller than the Nomadi, at least), standing between 5’9” and 6’1” on average. Women are generally just as tall as men, though men are broader at the shoulder. Both genders tend to have lithe bodies and have broad foreheads which they usually decorate with headbands, jewelry, or cosmetics. Women also have delicate, sharp facial features, almost as pointedly graceful as an elf’s. Both men and women often wear jewelry of any sort, with preference to bangles, rings, headbands, and armbands. Decoration is seen as a status symbol, and even those who cannot afford much jewelry will ornament their bodies with cosmetics, drawing lines and designs on their necks, wrists, eyes, and foreheads to simulate jewelry. Both genders hold cleanliness in high regard, bathing regularly. Grooming is important among them as well, with both genders taking ample time to present themselves finely, applying oils and scents to their bodies and hair.
Though ornamentation is important, clothing is usually simple. The environment of the floodplain demands heat-appropriate garments. Common among the Pharosi is the “shendryt,” a skirt-like garment worn by both genders. Lengths vary, but men typically wear shendryt cut away at the knee, while women wear slightly shorter ones cut at the thigh. Both genders also wear longer versions that hang down to shin or ankle for formal occasions. Accompanying the shendryt is the “sharyuit“, a simple long strip of fabric, usually linen, that wraps around the torso from waist to armpit, and then up over the left shoulder, leaving the right shoulder and both arms bare. Sometimes an additional tabard, cowl, or shawl is worn over top, and loose sashes are also common. Sandals are the preferred footwear, and scarves are often warn around the head or neck. Coloration varies for clothing, but light colors are the most common, with white being the most seen. Even the poorest of Pharosi make sure that their fabrics are at least treated to white, as untreated linen is seen as the surest sign of poverty. Orange, yellow, gold, light blue, and red are also common colors. Linen is the most available fabric, and the best for everyday wear, but most Pharosi have garments of silk or other more costly fabrics to wear outside of daily life.
First and foremost, Pharosi are proud. Despite being lorded over by God-Kings, they have long believed that they are deserving of the finest things in life. This mentality led them to create a vast empire not just once, but twice, even after suffering tremendous setbacks. This speaks to their tenacity and their will to not only persevere, but overcome and conquer. A history of conquest has certainly instilled within the Pharosi people a sense of entitlement and superiority, though current times see them much less domineering than they once were. Pharosi are not so quick to adapt, and indeed prefer to adapt situations to their own liking rather than change themselves, but they do come around eventually, realizing that the best way out of any situation is the one that ultimately betters life and prospect for themselves and their people. Still, their millennia of domination have left many wounds in their wake, and while most of them have been healed by time, there are some that have run so deep that they can never be mended. The Pharosi are as good at burning bridges as they are at building empires.
Pharosi now have come to be accepting of others, but still are much more inclined to give humans more respect than other races. Their innate pride and haughtiness also gives them quick tempers. They can take offense easily, and anger can come swiftly, but their fires burn hot and expire quickly. They are more prone to short-lived bursts of emotion than to held grudges. A religious people, the Pharosi have interesting interpretations in navigating their dogma, leading to many seemingly contradictory behaviors (see Religion, below), but are generally concerned with the fate of their souls when their time has come.
Ultimately, the Pharosi are a mixed bag, as their entire culture has seen a great shift away from their historical customs. Ways of thinking seem to differentiate depending on location – ports cities and trading hubs have moved the most away from the old culture, having fully embraced the society of commerce. Further away from the river, old ways still hold more sway. The remaining Pharaohs themselves are situated well away from the river, and their control is sometimes still powerful in their localities, where they maintain historical Pharaosi ways of life. Of the people subjected to their rule, some are resistant and forced to adhere, while others are comfortable in their places. Most Pharosi, however, have moved past thoughts of Pharaohs and nobility, castes and conquest, and fully immerse themselves in trade. While pragmatic, the Pharosi themselves are not an authority on the commerce itself, nor of any innovations or technologies that come with it. As the gnomes have long whispered ever since they won the Pharosi over with gifts and goods, the Pharosi “play at trading, but their best trade is play.” Whereas the Nomadi are wise, knowing of the land and nature, and the Dwahani are forward-thinking and involved in developing new technologies and research, the Pharosi seem to just go where the gold is.
The Pharosi have always been a religious people. The reign of the Pharaohs has always been attributed to divine right, that their bloodlines were chosen by the gods to rule over the rest of the Pharosi. To support this, the Pharaohs cultivated a very fervent religious base, and quite a lot of power was afforded to the priests and priestesses, though the Pharaohs ultimately were the top chiefs of religion, as dictated by their divine-on-earth status. Today, with the power of the Pharaohs having waned considerably, the temples have moved in on some of that power, and maintain a strong hold over Pharosi culture. Religious practice continues to be an important part of Pharosi life, and many people keep to the ancient customs of the gods and goddesses in the pantheon. Pharosi religion is centered on the Rhaonic Three, a familial trio of deities consisting of Hycos, the Father, Estra, the Mother, and Rhaos, the Son. Rhaos is the chief deity, being the prophesied ‘King of Gods and Kings,’ and born to Hycos and Estra. The Pharaohs were said to be the implementations of Rhaos’ power and will on this world. Other deities are also present in the Pantheon, and though Pharosi might name any one of them as their patron deity, all ultimately still pay homage to the Rhaonic Three.
Pharosi religion has a great focus on the afterlife. It is of great importance to many Pharosi to be awarded a place in Nakum-Ramsekah, the Golden Palace of Rhaos. Pharosi religion teaches that to achieve such a reward, Pharosi must be faithful, loyal (to the temple, though for a very long time this was a tool to ensure servitude to the Pharaohs), and active in making the people of Rhaos (that is, the people of the Pharaohs, the Pharosi) “mighty and noble.” This teaching has ever served as a catalyst for the pride, and greed, of the Pharosi people, and their will to conquer and subjugate and pursue glory. As times have changed, though, so have religious leanings. Keeping the Pharosi “mighty and noble” is now seen in accordance with the growth, flourish, economy, and welfare of Rekkar-Sarrat. Teachings also speak of being “good and honorable to your fellows, that the judgment of the soul would tip in your favor and grant you glory eternal.” This teaching preaches being a generally “good” person, but has long been interpreted to mean “to other Pharosi” to justify the Pharosi’s penchant for conquest, genocide, and slavery. Judgment is a constant theme in the Pharaonic religion, specifically in that failure to meet the standards of the gods, an individual’s soul would be unworthy to reach Nakum-Ramsekah and would be cast into Abdaruk, the underworld, a place of terror. Pharaohs, however, were seen as exempt from such a fate as they were mortal gods in their own right.
Pharaonic gods are often preached to be warriors, constantly fighting the forces of darkness and evil that crawl forth from Abdaruk to prey upon the mortal world. The conquering spirit of the Pharosi reflects the battle-hardened deities. Pharosi priests preach against the evil god Sebtek, who became the king of Abdaruk and seeks to conquer the mortal realm. Throughout history, Pharaohs have leveraged their status as installations of Rhaos to label all sorts of enemies as servants of Sebtek to inflame the Pharosi people against them.
In the southern provinces of Terek, Lygat, Eshu, and Zalat, the Pharosi engage in stranger religions. Nature cults are commonplace here, strange practices that blend the fervor of the Pharaonic religion with the indigenous druidric and shamanistic practices of the region. Priests here hold considerable power, though the structure of these religions is quite different from those in the rest of the plain.
Society and Government
Though the reign of the Pharaohs is now mainly a formality, castes and wealth classes still exist among the Pharosi, though now these castes are not decided by birth. Any citizen has the opportunity for wealth, fame, or glory in Rekkar-Sarrat; something that free trade and enterprise has allowed for. The ruling caste is no longer that of divine bloodlines and aristocracy, though it is arguably far more complicated. In major or large cities, trade guilds generally run things, protecting the interests of their umbrellas of professions while striking deals, compromises, and treaties with one another during meets where the officials of the guild gather. Guildheads are usually elected, though there is a fair amount of politicking and subterfuge that goes on in such proceedings. Temples also have varying degrees of control depending on their local strength. Most Pharosi are very respectful of the gods, their temples, and their clergy, which allows some amount of power to the priests. In some cities, however, certain individuals have risen above the priests and guilds due to their sheer audacity of their wealth and connections. These individuals are often called Trade or Merchant Princes or Princesses, and the power they wield and respect they command is reminiscent of the pharaohs themselves, though the true extent of their rule is cloaked in a network of authority and hidden in the general complexity of rule.
In smaller settlements – farming and fishing villages, outposts and border towns – rule is sometimes communal, though usually the wealthiest families or individuals issue the commands. In new settlements, the founders usually have the ultimate say. Frontier towns – that is to say, towns built up in areas far removed from other establishments whether or not they are truly on a border – often have a sponsor whose representatives enforce the rules of the benefactor. Towns and cities in the kingdoms closest to the Dwahani regions sometime employ the democracy of the northerners to varying degrees of success.
In the southern regions, society is often different than that of mid- and northern- provinces. Many of the cities there have a strong influence of southern Nomadi and the regions are sparsely populated. The largest cities in the southern regions are often barely bigger than the smallest towns of those to the north. Priests generally have much more power in the south, where the true bustle of trade life is less apparent. Nature cults and strange beliefs are more commonplace in these kingdoms.
Pharosi (Sarak-so-arasi – “The Words from the Mouths of the People“) The language of Pharos, Pharosi is the “official” language of Rekkar-Sarrat, spoken by the Pharosi and most others that reside or travel there. The language can be heard everywhere in the river lands, though the Trade Tongue overpowers it in most port cities, where Pharosi is mainly used in the household or among friends. The Pharosi language is steeped in tradition, not having evolved much in hundreds of years. Non-speakers sometimes find the language abrasive, full of short, sharp stops and hard sounds. An angry Pharosi speaking his or her native tongue is an intimidating experience, almost sounding like otherworldly curses when emphasized in such a fashion.