The Feudal Era is a period of history some eight thousand years long that begins with the awakening of the Orcish civilization, the emergence of the Dwarves and the Humans, the discovery of the Gnomes and Woodland Elves, the birth of the Halflings, as well as the numerous conflicts between these races. This era is fraught with minor conflicts and is generally marked with periods of brief stability followed by political, military, and geographical upheavals that throw the balance of the entire realm into chaos. Considered in retrospect by one learned in the history of the Dominion, there is a stark contrast between the fragmented, war-ridden governance of IldRenn and the almost-idyllic stability brought about by the monolithic Dominion.
Despite the optimistic words that begin early accounts of the Feudal Era in early Eridal literature, the Feudal Era culminates in a way much more befitting of the general atmosphere that pervades much of its length. A continental war that precedes the arrival of the Dominion in Western soil is the act that closes the Feudal Era and opens the doors to the first period of history that is shared between Sekhar's East and West.
Mist is the great obscurer of things in Thanardal tradition. However, it does not function as a malevolent force in the world, acting only to shield the mysteries of the ancestral spirits from the prying eyes of mortals, and serving as a veil between the two worlds. For this reason, the time that precedes the Feudal Era is called ImaDagtham by IstThanarel, and although the term is loaded with religious and mystical symbolism, it entered the vernacular at some point in the middle of the Feudal Era. During one of the few periods of peace during the Feudal Era, Viardal priests and scholars attempted to purge Human and Dwarven records of the term, believing it to be blasphemous against the one true god Viari, although these attempts failed as the term had already been in use for many centuries beforehand.
What few records remain of these 'before-times' are more often than not fragmentary mentions that even modern scholarship cannot say pertain to ImaDagtham for certain. These records are compiled in ImaVornar, the collective body of oral traditions from all the races of Man compiled by IstErisdal ascetics. Though there exist a small number that proceed in description for many lines, and a few pages in one case, these descriptions are often nebulous and given through the language of poetry that further obscures the truth behind their meaning. One commonality between most of these accounts is talk of a long night, or a very cold period of time during which the forests gave up very little in the way of food, and the land was covered in ice, even far to the north, where winter rarely shows its face.
One important aspect missing from the remaining accounts of ImaDagtham is a telling of the creation of the Races of Man. Though often overlooked in modern scholarship, which favours discussions on the merits of the Thanardal myth as opposed to the Viardal version of events, the uncertainty surrounding the birth of the Races of Man provided a convenient hole for the more xenophobic of leaders to fill, and an unorthodox but nevertheless popular theory is that many of the early conflicts between and within the Races of Man were exacerbated by the fact that many tribal leaders labeled their tribes as the 'chosen' people of whatever deities they worshiped.
The Dawn of the Orcs
The question of when, exactly, Orcish civilization began, is a complicated one. Even the techniques discovered in the modern day have offered little help in shedding light to the mysterious past of the eldest of the surviving Races of Man.
For much of their early recorded history, the Orcish peoples were confined to the somewhat arid ranges to the south of the mountain range known as Winter's Wall. Though these stories only exist in text as a result of hundreds if not thousands of years of oral tradition, their truthfulness is a matter that most modern Feudal Era scholars agree upon. The subject of how the Orcs came to be there is one of the most hotly contested topics for historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists in the field of ImaRenndal studies to this day. It is also one of the most controversial, owing in particular, to a rash of hoax discoveries and high-profile cases of data falsification in the second century N.A. (Nalvë Allanakhë, After Confederation).
Because of the nature of the environment around them, and the fact that at the time, agriculture had yet to be invented, these early Orcs were a nomadic people. Although the nature of early Orcish civilization changes nearly immediately after the IstThanarel enter the oral tradition, it is not for a few hundred years after the start of recorded Orcish history that they do.
One of the most striking features of the area around the south of Winter's Wall is that prior to the earliest indications of Orcish occupation some twenty thousand years in the past, there is no evidence of any civilized population in the area. This has lead many modern scholars to support what is known as the Orcish Migration hypothesis, formalized in writing in 183 N.A. by Tanar a'Divë, which posits that the early Orcs were not in fact native to the land south of Winter's Wall but for one reason or another moved en masse there at some point in Orcish pre-history.
The Orcish Migration hypothesis was founded on two important archaeological discoveries: settlements close to Winter's Wall which predate the earliest known Orcish habitations by at least three thousand years that contain technology far more primitive than any that had at that point been found, as well as similar findings within Winter's Wall itself that indicate the passage of a large population over the mountains.
The Orcish Migration hypothesis has gained a lot more traction, however, in recent years after advancements in the field of genetics that led to the sequencing of the Human and Orcish genomes revealed common ancestry between the Orcs and the Humans which was far younger than what had previously been believed. Prior to these discoveries, scholarly consensus believed that the earliest point of common ancestry between the races of Man—the Orcs, the Humans, and the Dwarfkin—was the original singular race of Man that existed some three hundred thousand years prior to the start of Orcish recorded history.
Prior to this genetics breakthrough, the weakest point of the Orcish Migration hypothesis, succinctly laid out by IkThanar Imáil Agor in 227 N.A. in her opus "On the History of Our People," was the fact that it proposed that the Migration caused a segregation of primitive Orcish population into two distinct groups—the group that headed south of Winter's Wall that evolved into modern Orcs, and the group that either stayed in place or travelled north from which the Humans would descend.
Though parties on both sides of the argument advise that no conclusions be made until the evidence is properly verified, large swathes of modern academia have taken to saying that the fatal weakness of the Migration hypothesis has been dispelled. Even experts who have long opposed the Migration hypothesis, such as IkThanar Osira Máar, have acknowledged that should the genetic link between Humans and Orcs be verified, there would be little reason to keep arguing over the Migration hypothesis which has on all accounts succeeded in the vast majority of its claims.
However, according to Orcish oral tradition, the good climate of the region was short-lived and began to deteriorate soon after the Orcs moved down into the floodplains. This is consistent, at least, with sparse evidence that the area was hit by a series of severe winters around the time when the Orcs should have been in the region. There is evidence of these winters in the Orcish tradition, known as ImaAnggab, the Mournful Night, the stories passed down from generation to generation speak of a long and dark time during which many of the Orcs died of sorrow, after realizing that the lands they had thought was the paradise of the ancestors was not.
ImaWaibelg, the Good Day, is an auspicious day to the Orcish peoples. It is still celebrated to this day, though the fanfare that accompanies the modern-day celebration of ImaWaibelg did not exist during the period of time around when it originally transpired. ImaWaibelg is also known as ImaNamrelg, the Day of Awakening, so named because it was on this day that the first shaman, IkNulthanar in IktOrryk, literally "the First Speaker," came into her power. Though her true name has long been forgotten to the mists of time, this figure, IkNulthanar singlehandedly paved the way to salvation for the Orcish peoples who were beginning to dwindle in IldKa, the cursed land.
Though few credible sources from the time survive to this day, oral tradition reports that it was on the coldest most bitter winter yet experienced by the Orcish peoples that IkNulthanar, then a girl just barely past the age of womanhood, first heard whisperings from beyond ImaDagdáig, the Mistveil, which separated the world of the spirits from the world of the living. Prior to this, Orcish belief in the afterlife varied wildly from tribe to tribe, though the vast majority agreed that spirits of the dead drifted far beyond the reach of the living and could not be consulted for guidance nor prayed to for deliverance. All of this changed, however, when IkNulthanar wandered into a winter-stripped woods and encountered the spirit of her Máilam and discovered that she could part the Mistveil to see the world for what it truly was, inhabited by spirits both Orcish and not, ancient primordial souls of sky and land, as well as younger spirits that sprang from the trees, the frozen streams, and the stones.
It is said that it is the spirit of IkNulthanar's Máilam that gave her the first ImaKaindhal, the first Coldfeather, which remains to this day a symbol of the authority of IstThanarel and a conduit through which they could focus their talents to speak with the spirits of nature and use their willingly-given power to shape the flow of reality. Shortly thereafter, it is said that IkNulthanar awoke in the tent she shared with her parents, remembering vividly how she had met her Máilam, but not quite the way that she returned to her people.
Although ImaWaibelg ends with IkNulthanar returning to her people, having accomplished little if anything with her power, tradition states that this day is still the beginning of a new era for the Orcs. Tradition dictates that ImaWaibelg marks the day when the Orcs were reunited with the collective wisdom of their ancestors and took the first step toward the noble race that they are now. Furthermore, as the founding day for ImaThanardal, it is sacred and most auspicious and deserves reverence, at least, if not outright celebration.
For many days after she received her ImaKaindhal, IkNulthanar could feel a power at the tips of her fingers but could not, hard as she tried, wield it, much less find a way to use it to help her people. Although this was the duty that her Máilam had charged her to do, she could find no way to fulfil what she had been told to do. In despair, on the fourth day after ImaWaibelg, IkNulthanar scaled the face of the nearest mountain and, for a short while, contemplated causing her own death if only to seek her Máilam's help past the veil.
Legend holds that it is on the way up the mountainside that IkNulthanar first noticed patches of green poking through the packed ice and snow that clung to the slopes of the mountain. Though at first she dismissed them, she quickly paid them heed when she saw snow melting and greenery growing in front of her, as though the spots were the fanciful footprints of some magical beast that she could not see. The words of her Máilam ringing in her ears, IkNulthanar called upon her power not to bend nature to her will, but instead to pierce the Mistveil to witness the true form of the creature that seemed so impervious to Winter's Grasp.
Though it was the first of its kind that IkNulthanar had ever seen, a name came to her from deep within, and from that day forth the spirit was called IkGren. By following the creature, IkNulthanar learned that the IkGrenel were spirits of spring and life, their vast, unfathomable power over the seasons drawn from nature itself. As winter grew colder and harsher, IkNulthanar sought out these creatures and learned their ways, earned their trust, and learned the language with which they communicated, which had no words, but instead shared meaning through soft touches of spring air, smells of plant growth, and raw emotion.
Through the IkGrenel, IkNulthanar learned the truth of the world of spirits. Though the spirits were themselves powerful, they could not expand their influence far beyond their personal surroundings. It was true that where they gathered, they created an area where their intrinsic powers manifested, creating, in the case of the IkGrenel, groves of greenery that remained verdant even in the harshest of winters, but they could not do much beyond that. It was then that IkNulthanar learned one of the principal tenets of ImaThanardal tradition: the spirits needed to use IstThanarel as conduits of their power—a truth that had once been known to the Orcish people, but had long since been forgotten to the mists of time.
With the help if the IkGrenel, IkNulthanar created ImaSanumálay, the Song of Growing, that warded away the harsh bite of winter, at least for a few days, and allowed her people to gather enough food that would allow them to not only survive the winter, but live rather comfortably in it.