As we pass farther away from the cesspits downhill from the alehouse, my mind relaxes as chances of some strange tricks on the part of Elrusyo diminish down to the minimum level of risk one always runs when consorting with herb-hermits.
In place of that mental exertion, I'm able to appreciate the river, now broadening and clarifying steadily, for what it is. It, like so many other bodies of running water across the Basin, is a vein of life running through the heartland of so many former states.
And, like real arteries, one need only apply a little pressure to them in order to affect change in the body at large.
The Ersuunians, and the people of Haraal who would eventually subsume or supplant them, are famed in written history as well as modern popular culture for their vast forces of cavalry, able to wash over any opposition like crashing waves. They conquered their enemies and then held onto their winnings through the threat and force of that mounted elite, which would grow increasingly landed and powerful as time went on. They remained the focus of warfare and political might until the appropriation of dry-stone building from Esgodarran architecture eventually met with mortar and resulted in the first fortified and stone-walled cities, which complicated the art of the siege and seriously hampered a cavalry focus.
But an equally important component of control was water access. As mixed and settled Esgodarran-Ersuunian petty-kingdoms formed, pastoralists and montane herders alike became more and more discouraged from true nomadism, and the ability for them together with their entirely agricultural neighbors to move to a new area in the event of drought became practically nonexistent. Recognizing this, chieftain-kings along the Basin's periphery exercised control over the wealthier heartlands by building the most elaborate series of earth dams the world has ever known- excepting the irrigation systems of inland Nambar of course. By limiting or allowing the flow of water into a particular region, the rulers of the northeastern reaches (where the highest percentage of rivers have their source) were able to exert formal or de facto control over groups who were downstream of them and had no way to rectify the issue or displace some other tribe in a better position.
We know this because the descendants of Haraal utilized the exact same methods of control centuries later, as evidenced by one passage offered by our ever-present friend Yashka the Sage, in which "the sons of the conqueror restored to use the old choke points of the rivers."¹ Opposition to this view traditionally argues that the dams must have been an invention of Haraal himself, and the restoration was by many later generations of his descendants whose forebears had let them fall into disrepair. I would argue against that by pointing toward the trend in existing literature of painstakingly and in excruciating detail exulting all of the achievements and creations of Haraal or his known lieutenants. Nowhere within that swollen body of chronicles can be found mention of the river controls. I know- every sophomore-level student at the ITU is expected to have them memorized.²
Today, the majority of the dams and other earthworks are lost along with much of the rest of the architecture present during the height of the Haraalians. Those that remain have been converted from weapons of war to tools of commerce, being used to aid river navigation or at times irrigation. If we are fortunate enough to develop a funded archaeological community in the near future however, I do not doubt that many spectacular artifacts of that bygone age could be found.
It could even shine light on--or put to rest for good--the notion that once upon a time, up until the migrations of the Ersuunians through the eastern highlands, the River Khesh flowed not south into what would become the Deltas region, but east into what we now know to be foreboding wastelands.
What cataclysmic event could have caused that? Had there once been a green east?
¹ Verse 28,441, line 8 of the Histories of All, Yashka the Sage, 1284 BR.
² And while it is officially attributed to Haraal's spontaneous knowledge and intuitive battle-prowess, I would argue that a broad, inherited cultural knowledge of the Ersuunian Basin's waterways from preceding generations played a large role in his conquest of the western reaches. This was one of his last campaigns, which culminated in the battle at the Masib River, south of the Oron'er Mountains. The river's original name is unknown, but today it bears the name of the Masibi people, apparently a distant offshoot of one of the mountain tribes, who believed that the river was the gateway into the afterlife, and as such traditionally set their dead adrift on rafts down its current. Haraal demonstrated that he was no stranger to dramatic irony when he first ordered the flow of the river to be cut to a trickle, then released it in a flood that swept away the surviving Masibs who hadn't been pinned and cut down upon its banks by his army.