The ancient empire of Arkhosia is little more than a legend to most of those who live in and around the Empire now; once upon a time, the dragonborn dominated the land, but spent their strength in constant wars with tribes on their borders and with the tiefling empire of Bael Turath. While Arkhosia remains proud, its power and wealth is a shrunken shadow of what it once was, confined to little more than the mountain ranges from which it once reigned, at the southeast corner of the Blessed Empire.
The divided lands of Arkhosia control only a tiny portion of their ancient empire. Nowadays, they include a number of petty realms around the ancient capital. The Dragon Throne is still standing, and is still tended, even though it has been empty for centuries: by tradition, it can only be occupied by one who has the active blessing of the great dragons, who have been absent – whether dead, traveling, or asleep, no one knows – for all that time.
The people of Arkhosia still think of themselves as united, as a single empire, even while acknowledging that their power has waned greatly since the glory days. In fact, however, the land is much divided, among half a dozen princes and kings, each with dreams of ascending the Dragon Throne and leading Arkhosia to new glory. The various noble clans, however, have kept each other in check for a thousand years, and show little willingness to set aside old scores; wars between clans are ongoing struggles among the mountains and cities where the dragonborn and their dragon allies once decreed the fate of an empire. Without the authority and power of the ancient great dragons to resolve these conflicts of heritage and precedence, it seems that Arkhosia may never rise from its fragmented state.
In the absence of a proper Emperor, authority technically devolves onto the officials of the palace:
- the Great Steward Agnesa, supposedly the most senior of the officials;
- the Marshal of the Skies Adrig, who held sway over the elite flying legions of Arkhosia;
- the Marshal of the Stones Armanak, overseer of the army;
- the Master of the Hunt Rehan, responsible for foreign relations, and for rooting out spies (the Arkhosian-Draconic word for ‘foreigner’ is a variation of the word for ‘prey’).
In addition, laws and policy are guided by the Hamaynk, a legislative assembly of all the clans of Arkhosia. While the Hamaynk has little direct power to make or enforce laws – that power largely belongs to individual nobles – it serves as the place where conflicts between clans and noble houses are discussed and resolved. It is also the body which is empowered to proclaim an Emperor. The influence and honor given to the Hamaynk is much greater than actual written laws would suggest; without a living Emperor, it has become the arbiter of the realms. While many mock it as a place full of posturing and strutting nobles, it is in fact more influential and powerful than the Senate at Vostir.
Over the centuries, the descendants of and claimants to these and other offices have been in constant conflict – occasionally even actual war – to establish dominance over the remnants of empire, access to the imperial palace, and recognition as the proper successor to the Throne when the dragons return. The claimants to each office have, for all practical purposes, established themselves as independent rulers, surrounded by lesser lords in the ever-shifting coalitions that make up Arkhosian politics; and the official roles and responsibilities of the ancient titles have been all but forgotten, remembered mainly in rituals of state.
The Marshal of the Skies’ stronghold is among the higher mountains of Arkhosia; while she has the smallest numbers of soldiers and subjects, she does have the advantage of a corps of troops which fly on the backs of drakes, in addition to the prestige and honor granted by the memories and traditions of the flying legions.
The Marshal of the Stones resides north of the city of Arkhosia, and has the allegiance of a patchwork of nobles throughout the realm; with the largest army (including several tributary and allies nomadic tribes), he is a force to be reckoned with, but strong traditions against civil war as well as balance-of-power diplomacy prevent him from simply taking the throne by force.
Master of the Hunt has a smattering of estates and allied nobles across the Arkhosian realms; his main strength is manipulating foreign influence and assistance, which is a potent tool against the shards of the ancient empire. His Huntsmen also have the authority to travel throughout Arkhosian lands with impunity, enabling them to gather information and to communicate more freely than other factions.
The Great Steward occupies the capital of Arkhosia itself, by far the largest city remaining under dragonborn control. This gives her tax revenues as well as the imprimatur of tradition to exert control and influence in the realms. While the Steward is the highest title of all Arkhosia (other than Emperor), it is also the most bound by laws and tradition; while supposedly the Steward can override any law, and can rule by decree, the Hamaynk must approve such decrees.
The kingdoms and principalities of Arkhosia pay an annual tribute to the court at Vostir: each year, each pretender to the Arkhosian throne must send a golden statue (or other piece of art) to the emperor. While largely a symbolic tribute, the intense competition for honor and recognition by each royal house spurs them to provide as impressive an item as they can, so each artwork is a masterpiece, worth a king’s ransom as well as being an example of inspiration and beauty. Failing to measure up to the competition is a great stain upon a noble clan, to the point where raids against each other’s workshops, and upon the caravans carrying the tribute, are common, and sometimes trigger a new round of violence and war. Sculptors and jewelers among the Arkhosian dragonborn are held in high esteem, and regarded as national treasures; kidnapping of – and defection by – elite artists is a constant threat in the minds of the nobility. By terms of the treaty, the tribute item must be made by a native dragonborn artist – although most clans will gladly recruit other races to act as advisors and assistants, and if a certain piece bears a strong eladrin flavor, for example, as long as it bears the mark of a dragonborn master, most imperial officials will politely look the other way.
In times of war, the Arkhosians are expected to support the Blessed Empire to the best of their ability. This often means that the noble clans will at least not intervene against the Emperor when it comes to war, excusing themselves under pressures of civil disorder and other problems. Small contingents of Arkhosian troops are usually found in the Imperial forces, however, and in times of great need (especially when the threat is perceived to be inspired by tiefling activity), the Arkhosian legions will march together in force, recalling a taste of the ancient dragonborn horde which conquered half the world. In times of peace, the Arkhosian Guard provides security duties around the Imperial court, with about a hundred of the finest dragonborn warriors. As a regular unit, the realms of Arkhosia as a whole maintain the Scaled Legion, a full Imperial Legion directly under Imperial command, made up almost entirely of dragonborn, most natives of Arkhosian lands.
Most of Arkhosia’s territory is mountainous, a rugged patchwork of valleys and peaks; south of these lands begins the desert, where Arkhosian writ runs for a hundred miles or more, a tiny patch of the vast arid plains. To the north of the mountains, the hills descend to the sprawling delta of the Aglef River, where it drains into the sea. The hills and the river valley are quite fertile, and Arkhosian wine has a great reputation among gourmets, rivaled only by the Turathian wines of the far western slopes, and exceeded only by the best of the extremely rare eladrin wines imported through Gard Proset. The delta and the sea provide a rich variety of fish and seafood; caviar is among the most profitable exports of Arkhosia.
For all that it is a mountainous realm, the capital of Arkhosia is the city on the delta; divided among a hundred islands, the city spreads across more territory than any other known city (besides Voscom), even though its population is not nearly as numerous as most other urban areas. It is famous for its markets, drawing as it does from the river as well as traders from the far south and east, with exotic goods of all kinds.
It is said – and few scholars seem to disagree – that, even in its diminished state, if Arkhosia were once again united, it could stand almost equal to the Blessed Empire; and if the great dragons were to return, it might bring the dragonborn empire back to supremacy. The last widely known great dragon disappeared a thousand years ago, however – died, departed, or simply fell asleep – and there is no telling if or when they will ever return.