Brigid of Emerald is the daughter of Fiona and a Darkovan chieri. The history of that world is much different the novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley, primarily because the Pattern of Emerald and the outlying Shadows were much darker in tone.
The planet Darkover was named by a group of marooned colonists for its dim red sun and cold weather. It was inhabited by the chieri, a dying alien race with psychic and shapeshifting abilities which provided the ability to interbreed with the human colonists. Within five generations, a stratified society resulted from those unions: the psionic‐wielding noble descendants of the humans and aliens, ruling the more numerous human servants through the use of their psychic abilities. It was a civilization that remained intact for several centuries through the combined powers of the ruling houses. Power within noble society was gained and held by the strongest wills, and individuals and families struggled for power on the psychic plane while maintaining a peaceful outward existence. Crime (and dissent) was non‐existent, because the nobles would continuously mentally scan the populace for criminal activity and rebellion.
The nobles maintained their power even after the rediscovery of the planet by the repressive human Imperial Galactic Empire, and the attempted conscription of the Darkovan psychic powers for the use and expansion of the empire. It was a long struggle, taking over seventy years, but the galactic empire fell apart due to internal political feuds long before they could conquer Darkover, and once more Darkover and its civilization was left alone.
But the eventual downfall and rebirth of the whole civilization of Darkover was imminent, and it was all because of an innocent flower.
A drug distilled from the pollen of the kiereseth flower was known to reduce psychic barriers and stimulate psychic abilities, and it was also a powerful aphrodisiac. It was honored as a holy sacrament, bringing joy to celebrants and healing to damaged psyches, but its use became more prevalent during the years they were fighting off the designs of the empire. As more and more nobles with psychic abilities were needed to fend off the empire, the psychic abilities of the younger nobles were awakened at earlier and earlier ages through the use of the drug. The constant need for its benefits meant that the rare bloom became increasingly difficult to find.
In order to improve it, a Darkovan noble with the rare psychic ability to manipulate genetics tried to crossbreed the delicate flower with other plants, and he succeeded beyond his dreams. One new strain was very potent and very hardy, growing wild in almost any soil, and it bloomed constantly. Any stray breeze would send the raw pollen through the air, casting all who breathed it into a blissful dream state.
In this state, the psychic barriers between the rulers and their servants began to weaken. The stronger minds among the nobles began creating a fantasy world for themselves as a defense against their falling barriers. When the barriers at last failed completely, the weaker minds were caught up in the fantasy world, believing it more real than the real world.
Eventually, everyone on the planet became part of this dream world, as the minds of the nobles stretched across the world. Those known to the nobles were added to the dreaming, while the rest of the population became little more than automatons, moving to fulfill the dreams and needs of their masters. Some necessary jobs were continued, such as the growing and distribution of food, while the others simply faded away and vanished from the dreaming to die where they stood or lay. To sustain themselves, some nobles developed the psychic ability to drain the life forces from the servants around them, while others unconsciously instructed their servants to feed and care for them; a few nobles would even awaken from the dream to eat and drink, yet they would return to the dream as quickly as possible.
Soon the dreaming world became more important than the real world. The overwhelming attraction of the dream world was because it was indeed a dream come true. The old nobles rediscovered their youth in their dreams, while the young discovered new worlds with every new dreamer that became part of the dream. Their only limits were the strength of their own wills against the wills of the other dreamers. Any desire would be fulfilled, and any pleasure supplied and satisfied, if the will proved strong enough.
The dreams also became the defense of the planet. A military dictatorship, one of the largest inheritors of the fallen and shattered galactic empire, eventually returned to the planet of Darkover, seeking to claim the psychic powers there or to destroy them utterly. But as soon as the dreadnoughts of the fleet came within the bounds of the dreaming minds, their crews were joined to the dream, and their intentions were immediately discovered.
The united minds of the dreaming nobles lashed out in an instinctive attack. The ships’ officers and crew were rendered mindless with a single thought. The few who resisted were driven to madness by hallucinations of their deepest fears or to unquestioning obedience by hallucinations of their deepest desires. Yet the nobility learned that more ships would come, the next time commanded not by human minds but by mindless machines and soulless Artificial Intelligences, so the nobles devised their defense of the plant.
The ships were manned by Darkovan crews by implanting the minds copied from their servants into the mindless crewmen. Knowledge of how to pilot the ships was stolen from the maddened minds of the original crews. So that they could continue to use their psionic advantages, a powerful noble was installed as commander of each great ship of the fleet, and the ship’s environmental systems were modified to add the kiereseth pollen to the atmosphere. Through their telepathic powers, the nobles would be able to continue to communicate with each other and to maintain the dream on the homeworld as well as on their ship as they traveled. When the fleet was ready, they set out on a mission to gather other ships, to add them to the planet’s defenses.
The fleet spread far and wide. Some took other ships, adding them to their fleet, then returned home to Darkover to protect it. Others came upon human worlds, conquered them, and brought the Darkovan civilization and dream to them. Within a century, the civilization that had developed on Darkover had spread to all but a few worlds of the old Galactic Empire. Every former citizen, human or alien, except for dwindling numbers on the outermost colony worlds, were entered into the dream. Strong minds among them took their place among the nobles, and it became a time of subtle political conflicts played out in a myriad of dream worlds.
Within a millennium, the dream had expanded to the length and breadth of the galactic spiral. Friendly and hostile alien civilizations were all added to the dream. The dreaming network had grown so powerful that it wasn’t necessary to physically travel: combining their mental power, the nobles conquered world after world, civilization after civilization, by the power of their minds, until only their civilization was left.
In this period, the Imperial worlds became two worlds: one in the physical world and one in the mental world. The physical world existed only to satisfy the mental world. Imperial technology replaced the need of the nobles for human servants, at the same time lengthening their already long life span, so the human population began to decline, until there were only the participants of the dream worlds and the few technicians who maintained the machines that kept those participants alive.