"On formal occasions he is addressed as Blessed of Asuryan. Under some circumstances, most notably when haste might be required, he is to be called Chosen One, or simply Chosen. On high holy days, he is known as Fireborn. The last sentence of any address on such days is always: Watch over us Vessel of the Sacred Fire. Normally a simple sire will do if you are addressed in conversation."
- —Young Teclis reciting the 21 forms of address to Lady Malene[1a]
The Phoenix Kings are the rulers of the High Elven Isle of Ulthuan. The position of Phoenix King is elective. He is chosen from among the Princes of Ulthuan on the death of the previous Phoenix King and crowned at the massive pyramid Shrine of Asuryan located on an island in the Inner Sea. Before being crowned, they must pass through the Sacred Flame unharmed to prove their purity under the eyes of Asuryan. This is not to say that all Phoenix Kings have been good rulers. In fact many long wars have been started by prideful, vicious and arrogant Phoenix Kings. Upon ascension to the throne, the Phoenix King, or "His Sacred Majesty"[1a] is betrothed to the Everqueen for a ritual marriage lasting one year, after which they are both free to hold separate courts and take new consorts. While Aenarion was deeply in love with his Everqueen, it has not been uncommon for later kings to have no romantic feelings for the Everqueen.[2a]
The ceremony in which the new Phoenix King is crowned is a secret, mystical and dangerous affair, and it is only thanks to the ministrations of the Sapherian wizards that the new Phoenix King survives it at all. As the powerful mages utter incantations that will protect the supplicant, he is ushered into the fires of rebirth and he faces his sternest test. Alone, the candidate must pass through the flames of Asuryan and in so doing he is reborn as the Phoenix King. Only twice in the history of the High Elves have persons attempted to pass through the flames of Asuryan without the consenting vote of the Council of Ulthuan and lived. The first was Aenarion the Defender, who emerged the first Phoenix King, while the second was Malekith the Great Betrayer.[2a]
- 1 Rulers
- 2 Source
After the powers of Chaos entered the world with the disappearance of the Old Ones and the destruction of their interstellar gates at the roof of the world, all seemed lost. As hordes of Daemons and men corrupted by Chaos sallied forth to destroy everything in the name of their masters, a hero rose from among the ranks of the Elves to fight back. His name was Aenarion, a warrior and adventurer who had travelled the world and returned home in his people's time of need. Knowing his people had no chance of holding off the Chaotic hordes, Aenarion travelled to the Shrine of Asuryan and implored the god to save his people. After countless sacrifices and libations failed, Aenarion hurled himself into the sacred flames of the shrine as a sacrifice. But to the amazement of all present, he did not die. Instead he emerged from the fire, unharmed and blessed by the power of the Creator God of the Elves. Armed with that power, he led his people to victory after victory on the battlefield and finally succeeded in driving the Daemon hordes from Ulthuan.
In this brief time of respite, Aenarion found peace for a while. He befriended Caledor Dragontamer, greatest of all the realm's mages and lord of the realm of Dragons, and added the power of that land to his armies, taking Indraugnir, greatest of all Dragons, as his steed. He married Astarielle, the Everqueen, and she bore him twin children: a daughter, Yvraine, and a son, Morelion. But the Daemon hordes came again, in far greater numbers and with much more ferocity. The war dragged on for a century, and faced with a numberless, relentless foe, even Aenarion began to lose hope of victory. Caledor presented a desperate scheme that might present a chance of victory: to create a Great Vortex that would drain the powers of Chaos from the world, thus saving its inhabitants. But Aenarion didn't want to risk the repercussions of such a plan. However, news came of a terrible event that would alter the course of his life: word reached him that the Daemons had attacked his wife's realm of Avelorn. Astarielle was dead, and his children could not be found (unknown to him, the pair had been taken by the Ancient Treeman Oakheart and his people to the safety of the Gaen Vale).
Believing his family dead, a vengeful Aenarion travelled to the Blighted Isle and drew the Sword of Khaine from its resting place in the Altar of Khaine there, ignoring the knowledge that to do so not only damned oneself but their descendants as well. It is said that on his journey, all four of the Chaos Gods urged him to reconsider and that the ghost of his wife appeared at the entrance of the Shrine, begging him not to go through with it, but Aenarion did not turn away. Blessed by the power of the Creator God and armed with the very weapon of the God of War, Aenarion became an avatar of death and destruction: none could stand against him. Off the battlefield, though he never stopped mourning Astarielle, Aenarion took a new wife: the beautiful seeress, Morathi, whom he had rescued from a Slaaneshi Chaos warband, and she bore him another son: Malekith. Aenarion made court in his bride's homeland of Nagarythe, at the castle of Anlec, where the most bloodthirsty and vicious of Elves flocked to his banner, and the castle and the kingdom became synonymous with misery, suffering and death. Eventually, Aenarion and Caledor fell out over the new age of cruelty and violence Aenarion had ushered in and Caledor stormed out of court. But before Aenarion could take action against his old friend, disaster struck.
The Daemons came again, this time in such great numbers there was no hope of victory. With little other choice, Caledor assembled the greatest mages in Ulthuan and began to create the Vortex. Realising he had no choice, Aenarion assembled his armies to defend Caledor on the Isle of the Dead. The battle that followed was long, bloody and savage and thousands of Elves were slain, but the ritual worked: the Vortex was created, draining away the power of Chaos and without it, the Daemons faded out of existence. Victory had been won, but the cost was high: thousands were dead, Ulthuan lay in ruins, Caledor and his mages were trapped inside the Vortex, doomed to keep it open forever, and Aenarion was wounded unto death. Though dying, Aenarion travelled back to the Shrine of Khaine and returned the Sword of Khaine to its resting place. He died on the island and his body was never found, leaving only a kingdom in ruins and a legacy that would haunt his people for long ages to come.
A new Phoenix King was chosen, named Bel Shanaar, later titled “The Explorer”.
Bel Shanaar was chosen by the Council of Princes over the more obvious successor, Prince Malekith, the son of Aenarion, due to their inclination for a more peaceful ruler. In spite of great support from his homeland and his insidious mother, Malekith did not contest the ascension and Bel Shanaar was crowned king. Initially Bel Shanaar's reign was peaceful and prosperous: Malekith made contact with the Dwarfs and together the two races established many settlements in the lands that would become known as the Old World, destroying hordes of Orcs, Daemons and other creatures of Chaos in great battles. Trade flourished between the two realms and Bel Shanaar and Snorri Whitebeard, High King of the Dwarfs, signed a treaty of eternal friendship between Elves and Dwarves. It seemed to all that the Elves had entered a golden age, one all thought would never end.
However, late in Bel Shanaar's reign, a canker began to infect Ulthuan: cults dedicated to the Cytharai, the darker Elven gods, began to flourish and spread, despite all efforts to curb their excesses. Malekith returned to Ulthuan and led a series of great purges against the cults across Ulthuan, but it did little save push the realm towards civil war. Finally, Malekith declared Bel Shanaar to be a follower of the cults. Before this claim could be ratified, Malekith murdered Bel Shanaar and claimed the Phoenix King had killed himself. Malekith demanded the crown pass to him, but the Council was skeptical. Unfortunately, this didn't stop Malekith, and he tried to take the crown by force. Too late, the Council realised Malekith and his mother Morathi had been controlling and directing the cults for their own purposes all along. Unfortunately, their plans were undone when Malekith was horrifically burned trying to prove his right to be king by passing through the sacred Flame of Asuryan. As his followers fled with their badly injured master, they left Ulthuan without a king and poised on the brink of civil war.
"The cloak felt like wings, lifting him up, borne aloft by the flames. He closed his eyes but nothing changed; still the flames filled his vision. A gentle breeze seemed to wash over him, its touch smoothing away skin and flesh and bone, reducing him to delicate ash; all without the slightest hint of discomfort. Imrik thought that he imagined it.
Sensation returned, the fire coalescing again into his form, creating body and limbs and head and fingers and every part of him from its essence. Opening his eyes, he turned and stepped out of the flames."
- —Imrik, son of Menieth, dies and Phoenix King Caledor is born.[3a]
With Malekith's betrayal, the Elf realms were plunged into turmoil once more. Malekith and his followers fled north to Nagarythe. Leaderless, the High Elves did not pursue. Frantic consultations were held between the surviving princes, the chief priest of Asuryan, and the Captain of the Phoenix Guard. It was decided that there was only one elf capable of the task: the third Phoenix King would be Imrik, who upon his succession took the name Caledor the First, for he was the grandson of the famous mage of that name.[4a]
Scarcely had Caledor been affirmed when the legions of Nagarythe swept down from their grim realm, bearing Malekith's banner before them. Thus did civil war engulf Ulthuan and the colonies — a desperate conflict in which quarter was neither asked nor given. Malekith himself rode at the head of his host, a dread figure clad in armour as black as his soul — then, and ever after, he would be known as the Witch King.[4a]
As the war ground on, the folk of Nagarythe became ever more desperate, relying on the blackest of sorceries and daemonic pacts. Thus did they come to be known as the Dark Elves. Consumed by madness, the Witch King decided on a final scheme with which he could reverse the tide of the war — he would undo the spells that held together the Great Vortex, and return Chaos to the world. The daemonic legions would march once more upon the face of the world — but this time to the aid of their new allies. Shocked by the turn of events, one amongst the Witch King's court saw this plan for the madness it was, and brought word of it to Caledor.[4a]
So began a last deadly conflict. As the Witch King and his councillors began their terrible ritual, the greatest wizards of the Elves attempted to stop them, but such was the awesome power of the Witch King's dark magic that he and his coven of mages slowly and inexorably gained the upper hand. The heavens shook and the earth trembled. In the far north of the world, the Realm of Chaos churned and prepared to advance once more. In the camp of the Phoenix King, Caledor prayed to all the gods and to his grandsire to aid him.[4a]
At dusk, the Witch King and his followers began their final push. Daemonic sorcerers came to their aid, and the last spells of the defenders collapsed before their onslaught. From the sky, the triumphant laughter of the Dark Gods was heard. Then, as the tainted magic touched the Isle of the Dead at the very heart of the vortex, new players entered the game. Mighty figures clad in light sent the surge of mystical power tumbling back to Nagarythe. The trapped mages of the Isle of the Dead refused to let their work be undone.[4a]
As the wave of energy reached Nagarythe, the island buckled under the titanic stress. Across Ulthuan, earthquakes cast down cities and toppled mountains. A wall of water a thousand feet high smashed down on Nagarythe. The sea rushed in to cover all of the dark kingdom and most of Tiranoc besides. Thousands were slain — drowned by waves, buried by earthquakes or struck by magical lightning. The shock was felt as far away as the Worlds Edge Mountains and is recorded in the chronicles of the Dwarf Kings.[4a]
With the High Elves weakened and in disarray, the surviving Dark Elves retreated northward and founded the kingdom of Naggaroth in a bleak and bitter land. For a century, both sides nursed their many wounds. Soon though, there began a long period of sea warfare and skirmishing over the north of Ulthuan as the Witch King sought to gain a foothold once more. Neither side had the strength to dominate, and the Blighted Isle, where the Widowmaker still rested, changed hands several times. During this period, Caledor oversaw the building of the fortresses of the Griffon Gate, Phoenix Gate, Eagle Gate, Dragon Gate, and Unicorn Gate.[4a]
Caledor personally led the last expedition to the Blighted Isle and reclaimed it from the Dark Elves. It is said that he stood before the Altar of Khaine for a moment and the Blade called to him. He stood there for a time, head bowed, and in the end, simply said no. Returning home from the conquest of the Blighted Isle, Caledor's ship was separated from the rest of the High Elf fleet by a freak storm. It was attacked by Dark Elf raiders who set the ship alight. For long hours, Caledor and his crew fought off their attackers, but the Dark Elves gradually gained the upper hand, and the Phoenix King realized that he and his remaining warriors could not win. Rather than fall into the hands of the Witch King's servants, Caledor jumped into the sea clad in full armour. Thus passed Caledor the Conqueror. It was a bad end for a great king.[4a]
Caledor's son ascended to the throne, taking the title Caledor II. Unlike his father, Caledor II was arrogant and foolish. When the Dark Elves sought to inflame the Asur-Dwarf relations, Caledor II's arrogance only worsened the situation. The Dark Elves began raiding Dwarf trade caravans, disguised as High Elves, but when the Dwarfs demanded an explanation and compensation for their losses, Caledor arrogantly replied that he did not answer demands but granted pleas and send the Dwarf emissaries away with nothing. The Dwarf High King, Gotrek Starbreaker, replied he made no plea to Elf, man or god and demanded twice the weregeld price for the implied insult. Outraged by this, Caledor had the Dwarf emissary sent back with his beard shaved off: the ultimate insult in Dwarf culture. This atrocity sparked off the War of the Beard, a millennia spanning conflict that saw the empires of the Elves and Dwarfs crumble into ruins.
Dwarf armies started to attack the Asur colonies all across the Old World. Arriving from Ulthuan, Caledor II took personal command of the Elf armies. He slew King Gotrek’s son, Snorri Halfhand, and routed many Dwarf armies. At the 14th siege of Tor Alessi, the war reached its conclusion. Caledor II allowed the Dwarfs to enter peacefully, but the Dwarfs attacked instead. The Asur claim Caledor II refused to slay Gotrek to preserve some hope of peace. The Dwarfs claim Caledor II was simply arrogant who habitually squandered the few opportunities for peace that occurred. The Dwarfs claim that Caledor II was killed by High King Gotrek at Tor Alessi after Caledor II charged straight into the heart of the Dwarf army unsupported. According to the Asur, however, Gotrek fought his way to Caledor and killed him at the centre of the field. Gotrek returned to Karaz-a-Karak with the Crown of the Phoenix King, having taken it from Caledor's corpse as compensation. It remains in Dwarf hands to this day.
As the High Elves planned to launch a suicidal attack on Karaz-a-Karak to recover the Phoenix Crown, word came that Malekith had initiated a new invasion of Ulthuan. Having learnt the error of hereditary kingship, the Asur's next choice for Phoenix King was the pragmatic Prince Caradryel from the outer kingdom of Yvresse. Caradyrel recalled the Elven forces from the Old World to deal with the Dark Elves, thus abandoning the few remaining colonies who had refused to return to fend for themselves against the Dwarfs. The survivors of these migrated to the forest of Athel Loren and became the Asrai, or Wood Elves, slowly integrating themselves with this sentient forest and its denizens.
Not being a warrior, Caradryel appointed a number of skillful generals to battle the Dark Elves. Because of his foresight, the Druchii were held at bay in the northern provinces for much of his reign. Despite numerous attempts by Malekith's assassins to kill him, Caradryel survived and was remembered as a wise and noble king. After a rule of over 700 years, Caradryel the Peacemaker became the first Phoenix King to die peacefully in his sleep.
For their next king, the Asur chose a warrior noble of Caledor, one who would seek to end the threat of Naggaroth for all time. His name was Tethlis and he loathed the Druchii with a passion, for they had murdered his family when he was but a child. At the start of his reign, the Dragons of Caledor began to succumb to a strange malaise, making them difficult to summon to war or even awaken from deep slumbers, and so Tethlis had to find new ways to compensate for the loss of these mighty beasts in his army. He began to train more and more soldiers, until he had rebuilt the Asur armies to a strength not seen since the time of Aenarion.
When this was complete, Tethlis launched the Scouring, a long campaign to drive the Dark Elves out of Ulthuan. The armies of Ulthuan and Naggaroth waged war against each other for centuries, the course of the war changing on the outcome of a single battle. The war reached heights of ferocity not seen since the days of the Sundering, as seen at the siege of Griffon Gate, where a Druchii army was ambushed by Tethlis's forces: only a counter attack led by Malekith himself was enough to save the Dark Elves from destruction, or the siege of Tor Lehan, where the Asur and Druchii forces wiped each other out down to the last Elf, leaving no survivors. After many years, Tethlis pushed the Druchii back into Nagarythe. He laid siege to Anlec and when it fell, gave the order for all Druchii prisoners -men, women and children- to be put to death - an action which only inflamed the hatred of the Dark Elves. Tethlis's commanders were also worried that the Phoenix King's hatred and bloodlust would spread to the Elven armies until they became no better than what they fought against.
In his 303rd year of rule, he led a great armada to the Blighted Isle where he inflicted a mighty defeat upon the Druchii: he also found the armour of Aenarion himself and had the great heirloom passed onto the descendants of Morelion, Aenarion's son by his first wife. He later died under mysterious circumstances: some claimed that he was slain by a Dark Elf assassin hiding among the bones surrounding the Sword of Khaine, others that he attempted to draw the weapon and as it began to come free, he was murdered by his own bodyguard, who feared the unleashing of the sword's terrible power. Whatever the truth of the matter, Tethlis did not return from the Blighted Isle and the Asur armada sailed home.
After the great cost in Elven lives, the Asur chose a more peacefully inclined ruler. They compromised, and chose a wizard prince of Saphery, Bel-Korhadris. His relatively unremarkable rule was marked by one notable event: the building of the White Tower of Hoeth, the greatest library and repository of magic and knowledge in the world. The King died shortly after its completion, and was buried beneath the Tower's foundations. It is claimed his ghost still wanders the Tower, offering wisdom and advice to scholars in need of it.
After Bel-Korhadris came Aethis, also of Saphery. The first Phoenix King who didn't succeed to a slain king and in the same time to not inherit an unstable kingdom to rule. During his reign, art bloomed and music was heard through Ulthuan, combined with a great sense of joy, as rumours spread that the Dark Elves were all but extinct and Malekith himself had finally died. It was during this time that the shrinking number of births was first noted and that the Elves were diminishing. During this time, Dark Elf infiltrators sneaked back into Ulthuan and the Cults of Pleasure spread once more: in the end, several Swordmasters of the White Tower of Hoeth were sent to investigate, and a long and bloody war was waged in secrecy between the Swordmasters and the cultists. Ultimately, Aethis’s High Chancellor, Girathon, was unmasked as a Dark Elf spy. Girathon chose to fight rather than come quietly, and in the struggle drove a poisoned dagger into Aethis's chest. Thus was the Phoenix King slain by a man he trusted as a friend.
Next came Morvael, High Loremaster of the White Tower of Hoeth (although originally from Yvresse). He was not well versed in statecraft or warfare. His first act was to order a punitive attack on Naggaroth to avenge Aethis's murder: unfortunately, the army he sent was massacred as it made landfall (an event the Druchii fondly refer to as "The Day of Blood"), and word of its failure spread panic across Ulthuan. It transpired that, far from being an extinct race, the Dark Elves had simply been amassing their strength for a return to hostilities with the Asur, and Malekith took advantage of the reduced military presence to once again assault Ulthuan. Having learned from his mistakes, Morvael appointed Mentheus of Caledor as his field commander of the Asur armies, and introduced the levy system, requiring that every Elf spends part of the year as a soldier. As Mentheus won the war, Morvael became ever more despondent at the high cost in Asur lives, and was driven deeper into paranoia and insanity through horrific nightmares Malekith's sorcery inflicted on him. During the final assault on Anlec, Mentheus’ forces took the castle, but Mentheus himself was killed: his dragon, Nightfang, went berserk and broke the back of the Druchii armies, and the survivors fled back to Naggaroth, Malekith in the lead. Weary beyond bearing, Morvael committed suicide by walking into the Flames of Asuryan once again.
Once again the Asur found themselves leaderless during a time of war. The clear candidate, Mentheus of Caledor, was dead, and none could agree on a suitable replacement. In the end Bel-Hathor, a wizard prince of Saphery was chosen and crowned. He was chosen because many in the Elven court believed that he could easily be manipulated to their own ends. They were proven wrong, and Bel-Hathor became a ruler as famed for his resolve as for his wisdom. The most notable example of this was his refusal to agree to an invasion of Naggaroth: while he was aware that the High Elves could likely destroy the Dark Elves in their weakened state, he feared that such a bloody and bitter war would leave so many dead that the extinction of the Elven race would be assured. He would not gamble his people's future simply for the satisfaction of revenge.
After many years of raiding by Norse tribes, the Elves began to hear of the human Empire in the Old World, and became uneasy. Bel-Hathor decreed that no human would be allowed to set foot on Ulthuan, but sent Finubar of Lothern to investigate what had become of the Old World in the Asur's absence. Finubar sailed to the Old World and found that the humans had some measure of civilization, and rediscovered the Asrai of Athel Loren. He opened relations with the Empire, Bretonnia and even the Dwarfs. He returned to Ulthuan with his knowledge and Bel-Hathor revoked his decree, causing trade to flourish. After 548 years of rule, Bel-Hathor the Sage died peacefully.
Bel-Hathor’s successor, Finubar, is the current Phoenix King. Under his rule, trade has flourished, and Ulthuan survived the last Great War against Chaos, with help from the twins Tyrion and Teclis. At present, Finubar leads the Asur against Malekith's latest invasion.
Before the war, when he was the Prince of Eataine, Finubar was sent to the Old World by the late Phoenix King, Bel-Hathor. His mission was to evaluate the strength of the realms of men and to judge their worth as potential allies. He travelled extensively in the Old World and was thoroughly impressed by what he saw. Expecting to find people living in primitive huts he found instead powerful kingdoms with mighty cities protected by disciplined armies able to defeat the Orcs and to turn back the armies of Chaos. An ambitious and greedy people with the potential to surpass the fading power of the High Elves.
Prince Finubar even managed to visit the Forest of Loren and encountered the Wood Elves, kinsmen to the High Elves. On his return the prince advised Bel-Hathor to forge alliances with the mighty kingdoms of men and managed to persuade him to partially lift the ban which forbade any human to set a foot on Ulthuan. Henceforth, human merchants were allowed to trade their wares in the city of Lothern. Upon Bel-Hathor's death Finubar, his chosen successor, was elected.
- 1: Blood of Aenarion (Novel), by William King.
- 1a Chapter 11
- 2:Warhammer Armies: High Elves (7th Edition)
- 2a pg. 15
- 3:Caledor (Novel), by Gav Thorpe
- 3a: Chapter 9
- 4:Warhammer Armies: High Elves (8th Edition)
- 4a: pg. 19
- Warhammer Armies: High Elves (4th Edition) -- pg. 7, 16-18.
- Warhammer Armies: Dwarfs (4th Edition) -- pg. 7-8.