Realm Explorers Part XXXVI: Visit the Noorhitam Empire with Anne Elisabeth Stengl!
Welcome to Realm Explorers!  In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors.  Enjoy your travels!  And don’t forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book. 

Author’s name: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Title of book and/or series: Golden Daughter, book 7 in the ongoing Tales of Goldstone Wood
Brief summary of the story:
BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS
IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED
Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.
But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?
For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.
Brief description of the world or location you created for this story: 
Most of the action in Golden Daughter takes place in the Noorhitam Empire, which is loosely inspired by a variety of East Asian cultures. My research focused primarily on ancient China and ancient Japan/Okinawa, but I also delved into Korean, Mongolian, and Thai histories, cultural practices, architecture, etc.
The empire itself is made up of a variety of subcultures, but the two most prominent are the ruling Kitars and the nomadic Chhayans. Two hundred years before the story of Golden Daughter takes place, the Chhayans were overpowered by the Kitar. The cultural clashes of the two people groups provide much of the drama for this tale.
If we were to visit Noorhitam as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?
You should definitely take time to visit Manusbau Palace, the home of the emperor. This palace is actually a series of beautiful complexes, gardens, and grounds—almost a mini-city in and of itself—fortified by magnificent walls. It is a sumptuous testament to the power and grandeur of the Kitar nation. Just be certain you don’t drink any tea laced with gold-leaf poison!
Built beside the palace and rivaling it in grandeur is the Crown of the Moon, an enormous temple dedicated to Hulan, the moon goddess worshipped by the Kitar and Chhayans alike. But while the temple is glorious indeed and well worth seeing, more interesting still are the humble ruins of an ancient House which stood on this site long centuries ago. The foundation stones of this House are still warm with the heat of the great conflagration that burned it to the ground . . . .
What dangers should we avoid in Noorhitam?
Noorhitam is crawling with enemies of the emperor, particularly the lethal Crouching Shadows, assassins from the neighboring kingdom of Nua-Pratut. You should also keep your eyes open for Chhayan bandits roaming the hinterlands of the empire. If they take you for a Kitar, they will show no mercy!
The Golden Daughters themselves—highly trained bodyguards of incomparable skill—are possibly the most dangerous threat you might face. Only if you threaten one of their patrons, however, so you should be safe.
Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Noorhitam?
Travelers may enjoy an eggplant mash seasoned with oil and a variety of spices and served with flat bread. In the palace of the emperor, you will be treated to teas, both black and herbal, candied fruits, and sweet pastries.
What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in Noorhitam?
The Emperor of Noorhitam boasts a lethal artillery brigade of  longbowmen. Their bows are tall, and their arrows include weighted hare-fork arrows which can tear a man apart.
The Golden Daughters carry two knives which they hide up their sleeves. They are also trained in hand-to-hand combat and are comfortable with a variety of other weapons and poisons.
The Pen-Chan people of Nua-Pratut have discovered the secret of “black powder,” with which they have created dangerous explosives. So far they have managed to keep this secret from falling into the hands of neighboring nations, but it’s only a matter of time . . .
What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or to Noorhitam?
The Chhayans out on the wide plains of Noorhitam travel in gurtas, buffalo-hide dwellings on wheels, pulled by teams of buffalo. Not very fast, not terribly comfortable, but durable and providing decent shelter when the cold winds blow.
Pilgrims traveling to the various holy sites and shrines across the nation often ride mules or donkeys. Horses are considered the steed of noblemen.
What role, if any, does magic or the supernatural play in the lives of people in Noorhitam?  If there is magic, please give some examples of what it involves or how it’s used.
Magic in my world is not really . . . magic, per se. Faeries abound in this series, and they have “magical” powers available to them (depending on the type of Faerie), but these are really more extensions of their Faerie selves than actual potions-and-spells magic. There are some characters who work enchantments and sorcery—and humans who dabble in Faerie magic are considered misguided and dangerous. But much of the magic of this world is not really magic in the traditional sense.
One of the major characters in Golden Daughter has the ability to walk in the Realm of Dreams. This is a strange, between-worlds dimension from which dreams are supposed to originate, and most mortals cannot access it. But the Dream Walkers are trained to send their spirits beyond mortal realms and explore deep into the Realm of Dreams and the surrounding dimensions. This could be considered a form of magic, achieved through concentrated meditation and chants.
Is there a particular religion practiced in Noorhitam?  Please describe what it involves.
Noorhitam is deeply devoted to a heavenly-spheres-centric religion personifying the sun and the moon as Anwar and Hulan respectively, and the stars—or Dara—as their angelic children. This was originally an old Chhayan religion, but when the Kitar people took over, they usurped the religion as well as the land (exchanging it for their vague ancestor-worship, which is now considered grossly out of fashion).
The Dream Walkers are considered sacred priests, using prayerful meditation to access realms beyond the mortal world with the hope of someday crossing the Dream and walking in Hulan’s Garden (a sort of Heaven where the moon and the stars are said to dance and sing).
There are quite a number of priestly orders, with the most prominent priests devoted to Anwar and Hulan, and lesser priests dedicated to the service of various Dara, such as the North Star, Chiev, and the star of the Emperor’s City, Maly. The duties of these priests vary according to their specific deities, but involve seasonal prayers according to which lights are most prominent in the sky.
Even priests devoted primarily to Hulan offer morning prayers to Anwar when he rises. Anwar is considered the most powerful of the celestial deities, although the High Priest is devoted primarily to Hulan.
What is the political or government structure in Noorhitam?  Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?
Noorhitam is ruled by an emperor called the Anuk Anwar—which means the “Son of Anwar.” He is considered semi-deific and absolutely god-touched. He wields quite a lot of control, but intricate political dances require him to keep his various warlords and the clan leaders appeased.
The current Anuk Anwar of Noorhitam is a middle-aged man with a young face, fairly immature for his age. He isn’t particularly pleased with his lot as emperor, preferring the carefree life he used to know as a prince. He’s not above throwing his imperial weight around as he sees fit, however, and his warlords tread softly around him.
What, if any, “hot-button” or controversial topics do you touch on in your book?
This book openly deals with the question “Where is God in times of suffering?” It was a difficult question to tackle, and not one I would have jumped into willingly. But when I write these stories, I spend a lot of time in prayer, asking God to lead me to what (if any) message He wants to communicate. My role is simply to be a willing vessel, and I earnestly seek to be open to His leading. In the case of Golden Daughter I was thrilled and amazed by the storylines I saw unfurling, by the message that bloomed naturally from the text and characters.
Author Autobiography
ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitchhave each been honored with a Christy Award.

To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit: www.AnneElisabethStengl.blogspot.com
Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book(s)?  Please include links.
You can purchase Golden Daughter in ebook and print formats on all the major online bookshops! Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.
Where can readers connect with you online?
I love to connect with my readers! Be sure to follow my blog, Tales of Goldstone Wood. You can also sign up for my quarterly newsletter and keep up-to-date on all the upcoming Goldstone Wood projects (of which there are many). Be sure to like me on Facebookas well!

I hope you all enjoyed the trip to the Noorhitam Empire.  Questions about the world or the book?  Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!  

Click here to read other posts in the Realm Explorers series.

Please join us again next Monday for a trip to the Land Uncharted, in Realm Explorers Part XXXVII!
-Annie Douglass Lima

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