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Reintroduction of Iron into the Ancient Worldby John Calvin
I've been thinking about this all last night and most of this morning. There is actually a lot to unpack here. I appologize up front for the length this post will probably end up being. I'm going to start with the introduction/re-introduction of iron into the ancient world.
We know that the Nithian empire was the first empire after the GRoF, and that they were also the first to wield iron weapons again. Before them, most nations were solidly in the bronze age, but I do think it was likely that there were some exceptions to that rule. The dwarves of the Shimmering Lands kept Blackmoorian technology alive to some degree, and that probably included iron working - though those dwarves were extremely paranoid and secretive, which contributed to the knowledge of iron working not expanding during that time. Some of the fire giants of Grondheim probably also knew the craft of iron working, but they kept their knowledge secret for other reasons - namely not to incure the wrath of the Troll Queen.
There were also several major, formative events that happened during the "birth" of the Nithian Empire. First, the destruction of Mogreth in a massive flood (which paved the way for the creation of the Nithians) in BC 2000. After that the fledgling Nithians probably had contact with Taymora to the south, and the Shimmering Lands to the north (the one piece of canon that I completely reject is that the dwarves and Nithians had no contact... there is just no way in my mind that is possible). But the dwarves were headed for civil war, and 200 years after the great flood, Kagyar remade them all. After that we have the dual events of the LRoF and the sinking of Taymora. I've been linking the transformation of the Troll Queen (and her ilk) to the explosion of the LRoF circa BC 1700. So here is a straw-man time line to help highlight some of those events:
BC 2000: Mogreth is destroyed, setting the stage for the rise of Nithia (it doesn't make sense to me that Nithia pops up fully iron age, so early Nithia is probably bronze age like the nations around it).
BC 1800: End of dwarven civil war, and dwarves are "re-made" in Kagyar's image (I think it may be likely that the Kagyar dwarves are the ones who first share the secret of iron working with the Nithians).
BC 1750 - 1700: Taymora undergoes violent geological upheaval, eventually resulting in its sinking.
BC 1700: The LRoF occurs and the Troll Queen and her children are transformed into hideous monsters (modern day trolls).
I'm wondering if with the re-introduction of iron to nearby nations (Nithia) is maybe an impetus for the Troll Queen to take some chances on performing dangeours magical rituals. Maybe she felt the need to strengthen herself against iron. Maybe she was trying to transform the iron (and those wielding it) into something weaker and it backfired. Lots of possibilites.
The Red Curse doesn't come into play until closer to the fall of the Nithian Empire. The Red Curse itself is caused by the interaction of several different magical events. The Nithians created Legacies to give them an advantage in the region, probably during their conflicts with the manscorpions. That's around BC 700. Then we have the Herathian-Wallaran conflict (ending in the wallaran curse), and the enduk-manscoprion conflict (ending in the manscorpion curse). Those events all happen circa BC 500 (along with the Spell of Oblivion after the Nithian corruption ends them).
Tying this back to the trolls... I'm wondering if the Nithian Legacies are actually a sort of backwards engineering of the accident that happened to the Troll Queen in BC 1700. It's transformative magic and the Nithians could have been studying that for quite some time in order to stabalize and weaponize it.
That being the case, there might be a reason that cinabryl (and red steel) have in impact on someone who has acquired the Red Curse and Legacies. Perhaps red steel is to Legacies, as cold iron is to those with fey blood. If the two are related (as I think they are), then it makes perfect sense that red steel might also impact the fey-blooded in the same way. There is a big period of time between the two events however (about 1200 years). So if you're looking around the time of the beastmen invasions, I don't think the Red Curse (and therefore red steel) are around yet.
We've actually got a few more years to play around with. Nithia emerges circa BC 2000, but it isn't fully destroyed until BC 500, so that is 1,500 years to deal with. From memory (take with a grain of salt - I'm going to have to go back and re-read Nithia's timelines), I think that the Nithian "golden age" is listed around BC 1500. Nithia's downfall doesn't begin until around BC 700, and they aren't "erased" from history until BC 500.
There are some interesting things that happen during each of these times.
BC 700 sees the Nithians expanding onto the Savage Coast and pushing the manscorpions out of their ancestral homes. I think it's probable that this date is also associated with the creation of Nithian Legacies (as one of the components of the Red Curse). The Red Curse isn't fully developed yet though. Back in the Known World, this is also the time that the Alfheimers start creating the Canolbarth Forest. I've always thought that the magic they used to create the forest was stolen from Nithia (turning it into a desert). This is part of the counter attack against Nithia once they start turning toward darker forces.
BC 500 sees the destruction of Nithia and the Spell of Oblivion. At the same time, the manscorpions also betray the enduks and drive them from Nimmur. They attempt to wipe out the enduks and claim the heritage of Nimmur as their own. Kind of a neat parallel to the Immortals wiping out the history of the Nithians.
Anyway, bringing things back around to iron working, it's pretty apparent that the Nithians would have iron/steel tools from at least BC 700 until their destruction. I suspect they picked up iron working during their "golden age" which is going to be around BC 1500. The real question (as it relates to Rob's query about the Troll Queen) is when did that happen exactly?
If it can be tied back to BC 1800 (and perhaps trade with the dwarves) then the Nithians would have had tools to severely threaten Grondheim and it's fey overlords. This could lead to some adventure fodder for that time period.
If it is instead tied to BC 1500, then that means the Nithians would have acquired iron working after the fall of Grondheim, and thus may never have presented a real threat to the Troll Queen. Perhaps, it is only with her destruction that iron-working once again becomes prevalent in the Known World. Also some adventure potential here... but depends on which way you want to take it.