An excerpt from Scholar Tobias the Dubious's "A Brief History of Arvum":
Early histories, before the founding of the great capital city of Arx, are poor enough to drive any dedicated scholar to drink. Incomplete at best, maddeningly vague, contradictory, and written in a poetic style far more concerned with the weave of a good tale to make a better song, not a one before The Reckoning can be relied upon.
A scholar then relies only upon what we can be reasonably certain is true, rather than being another small voice contributing to the great cacophony of dubious history. We know this to be true: the great noble houses of the realm predate the Reckoning by at least centuries, and we can place the time of the Reckoning at roughly a thousand years ago.
"What was the Reckoning?" A question only a child or foreigner from outside of Arvum might ask, since every man or woman grown in the Realm knows the tale. A thousand years ago, men had grown arrogant enough to ignore the warnings of the gods to not meddle with the dark realm beyond the Mirror. Magic, the writers of the time tell us, was too strong a lure and the gods were forgotten in the face of the great power the dark forces on the other side were willing to bestow upon willing petitioners. Scholars should remain skeptical of these tales. Much and more of this is surely poetry, the metaphor and allegory of the writers of the day to represent man's hubris, since we have little evidence that magic or demons or any of the like ever truly existed. None the less, the tales tell us that the practice of dark magic grew so wide-spread, that the demons were finally able to cross into our world in a great sundering we all call the Reckoning. The new invaders had little interest in being the minions of mere mortal men, and set upon a great war of subjugation, exterminating all in the realm that refused to bend the knee before the demonic onslaught.
We scholars can presume that such a great war did happen, though were they demons? It seems wiser to presume that the invaders were some great host from another continent, men of a fierce sort certainly, but men none the less. We can likewise agree with the tales that the houses fell one after another, outmatched by these invaders, whatever their nature. And we can find some veracity in the claims of what happened next. The great noble houses, finding themselves pushed to the brink of extinction and annihilation, banded together in one great last stand, creating the fortress of Arx.
The priests tell us that the gods themselves defended in the final battle of the Reckoning, throwing back the demons. Each great house has their own heroes that echo back to those halcyon days, with their own tales of valor and final victory as they threw back the demonic host from Arx. We can imagine there is a grain of truth in all the tales, if only the great battle of Arx was made of mere men fighting other men of a fiercer sort. We do know the traditions that arise from the founding of Arx as the last bastion that saved the realm; the family of each of the great houses traditionally live in Arx, even if though the seat of their power still resides in the capital city of their homelands. At the time of the Reckoning, the Compact was not as we know it today. One of the kings spoke as first among equals, but power was still equal between each of the houses, and the Compact lost all meaning in the centuries of rebuilding that followed the time of the Reckoning, even if Arx grew and prospered as a central hub between each of the five kingdoms of Arvum.
All five of the kingdoms of Arvum had been ravaged during the Reckoning, with few men surviving outside of Arx's protective walls. Some descendents of those survivors still harry and trouble the kingdoms today, uncivilized clans that cite a thousand year-old grievance of being abandoned and left outside of Arx's protection, and do not obey the Compact's right and proper ban on the practice of witchcraft and magic. The Abandoned, as they call themselves, are hardly a threat to the great houses and their kingdoms, but are a sad reminder that not even our greatest victory came without cost.
We can presume it was one of these sad tribes that harried our ancestors terribly during the centuries of rebuilding. Commonfolk and legends will call these new enemies the elves, but wise scholars are advised to take such names with a great deal of skepticism. Riding on beasts of the forest, creating great living siege weapons of earth and tree, wielding fantastic magic- all these are the stories that are told of the elves, who had grown furious that the expansion of man resettling the lands lost during the Reckoning threatened lands they now claimed. Skirmishes led to small wars, which were settled in fragile peace treaties, and so it went for generations during rebuilding. A particularly bloody war led the soft hearted King Alaron Grayson to seek a lasting peace with the elves, bringing the heads of the great houses to meet with the elf king at a great peace summit under a flag of truce.
Unfortunately, the King of the Compact was more kindly than wise, and the peace summit was an elaborate trap, where these treacherous so-called elves slew the king and most of the great leaders of the day, then proceeded to launch a devastating war against all of the kingdoms of Arvum, intent on wiping out men for good and all.
The king left no sons, and the great houses were in chaos from the deaths of their own leaders, with a number of the heirs unprepared for the ferocity of the unexpected attack by the elves. The king had left only a daughter, and every great house followed male primogeniture, which left all in doubt of the young woman's capacity to rule, and the elves did not take her seriously as a threat. The elves mocked the very notion, sending to Arx the defiled remains of the king, with his head to be delivered to his daughter. But that young woman would go down in history as Queen Alarice the Great, known as the Elvenbane, First of her name and the greatest ruler House Grayson ever produced.
It was Queen Alarice that rallied the great houses, invoking the almost forgotten Compact for mutual defense that had not seen the houses fight as one since the days of the Reckoning, starting the count of the calendars we still use to this day. It was Queen Alarice that led the armies of the Compact, taking back the lands of Arvum inch by bloody inch. And it was Queen Alarice that killed the Elven King in single combat, driving out the so called elves for good and all, and founding the Elfbone Throne. Many of the traditions we still honor, such as the right of the eldest child regardless of gender to inherit are derived from her reign, and the High Kings and Queens have often been seen as the true ruler of Arvum rather than just an arbitrator of disputes between the greatest of houses. Sadly, in the last five hundred years, few of our rulers could prove her equal.
It is in one of these troubled times that we now live. The young King Alaric Grayson, Fourth of His Name, has fallen ill and is unable to rule. The regent Bisland is torn between the different competing interests of the Great Houses, and the young king has no issue of his body, with no obvious heir remaining. In times of old, this would mean the Compact elects a new high king of their number, but no election has been forthcoming. We face not the myths and dangers of the past, but the ambitions of all those mighty enough to wield power in Arx. Those ambitions are dangerous indeed.