The Three Kingdoms, Agstowe
In my travels, there have been few lands that have charmed me as much as those of the Three Kingdoms. Miles is big and noisy, so I suppose that’s something in its favor. Weyland is beautifully forested, Dorlan is full of wizards... but the Three Kingdoms have a special place in my heart. To outsiders they can seem a quiet place, withdrawn and taciturn, but never have I been more welcomed by halflings who weren’t my kin before! The Kingdoms share many qualities which the harsher Eylic lands of old Middlemarch, yet there is a hidden warmth in the Kingdoms that one does not find amongst the precipitous mountains of Claulan or the deep old woods of Weyland. There are elves and dwarves aplenty in the Kingdoms, but it is the only land in all the North where halflings and gnomes live lives commensurate with their human neighbors.
Agstowe lies across a region known as the Wyrmland, which stretches from the Drammon River to the Dorlish Hills and from the Serpent’s Tail Range in the north to the Great Swamp in the south. Local halfling legend tells us that the region is so-named because it was carved from the earth by the death-throes of a great black Wyrm that had been slain by giants in the earliest days of the world. A related name is that of the Dragonfall Uplands in Agstowe (nestled between the Serpent’s Tail Range and the Wyrmburg), which is said to have been made by the lashing of the great Wyrm’s tail as is thrashed against the earth.
The physical beauty of Agstowe is not to be discounted! It’s spare uplands have a heartbreaking emptiness to them, miles of stoney earth and short pale grasses stretching away along the banks of the rivers that wind out of the mountains. Deep woods, perhaps descendants of the great ur-wood that once covered all the North, can be seen throughout the kingdom. The Blackhollow feels old, as though the generations of halflings and gnomes beneath its bows have left more than just history behind but memory as well. Callaver Wood and the Orcwood both feel young and vital, the pine-needles springy beneath the trod of smallfolk feet.
The lowlands of Agstowe are knit with the rivers that come pouring down from the mountains, and in many places the earth is too flat to accommodate their banks. When the rivers reach the lowlands they often spread from their troughs and wander across the land, turning it to boggy fens. Even the mouth of the Old River has its birthing place in a swamp which empties to the south. These swamplands are lush and verdant and frequent haunts of the forest gnomes. Men too travel into the swamps for sustenance, though frog is considered to be the food of the meanest hovel.
Old Teral and the Temulan Rebellion
During the time of Old Teral, the Wyrmlands were mostly under the administration of a province known as Avonus (the “new territory”) and it formed part of the heartland of the old empire. The locals were elevated to the ranks of civic nobility and given a part in their own governance; the old stories even speak of the Hornbeam family, a group of halflings who rose to high enough prominence to serve in the imperial court at Thalon. However, as Teral grew more and more corrupt, the evils of the Necromancer’s Cult spread throughout the capital and began to affect the provinces.
The Avonian nobility was strongly opposed to the spread of the Cult. Particularly important was the Temple of Avauna with its widespread adherents in and around the city of Oldport. The disputes came to a head in X.285 when Teral was under pressure from the south. A young nobleman named Temulus took his personal retainers and hired a number of soldiers away from the provincial governor.
Most of the Gowers were content with their position beneath the Empire. It may have been slowly rotting from the inside, but Avonus was relatively free of the stinking decay of the Necromancer’s Cult. Temulus attracted few followers in the first months of his rebellion; they were mostly Avaunite fanatics and clerics who feared the growing power of the enemy cult.
In fearful response the Emperor Dulus Amenius declared that Gowers and Eyls could no longer serve in the civil government of Teral as punishment for the insurgency. The legends that old great-mothers tell in Agstowe say that the Emperor was terrified of the wrath of the Avaunites. His decrees went forth from Thalon into the provinces and the Gowers were dismissed from their posts. Overnight, the Temulan Rebellion doubled and then tripled in size. Temulus and his men retreated into the great forest of Blackhollow, striking out at tax caravans and army supply vans from their hidden places within the wood. They were sheltered by the forest gnomes of Blackhollow and given secret glades to hide in.
In the third year of the rebellion, X.288, Temulus was killed in a raid on the fortress at High Hill. His paternal uncle, Haegarus, took control of the bandit-army and, in X.292, claimed victory over the Teralian forces in Avonus and drove them back southwards. He was crowned Haegarus Temulan by the overjoyed nobles of the province and thus began the line of Temulan kings. They ruled the little proto-kingdom of Avonus for nearly one hundred years before it became known as Agstowe.
The particular mannish people that live in the Three Kingdoms are called the Gower. The best description of them was written by the blowhard Reynarius di Llun in his book “On Agstowe,” and I present it again here for completeness:
There is a people that live in the lands to the west of Dorlan that we call the Gower. They are of mixed descent, coming partially from Valelan stock of the north and partially from the Llyrian people known as Eyls. In culture and essence they are Weylic with influences from the ancient Milean traditions. In appearance they are generally light brown to blond haired and light eyed with frames that range from ropey to muscular. They are not short but neither are they as tall (generally) as the Valelan men.
They seem suited to the classed society of peasantry and lords, and in general do not yearn for a different life. Farmers in the Three Kingdoms till a good yield and their corn is often sold to merchants traveling from the south to feed the great cities of the Empire. While perhaps not as culturally advanced as Miles or Dorlan, they still live fairly good lives. They are a stolid, sturdy people and they share their Eylic cousins affinity for the land and thus for dwarven people.
Even more than dwarves, however, the Gower get along with gnomes and halflings better than any other race. There are no halfling shantytowns or gnomish tent-cities in the Three Kingdoms; they are treated well by the Gower and build their houses right amongst the townsfolk of men. The smallfolk, who are generally shy and elusive, make up a good minority of the Three Kingdoms and thus may even be considered almost Gowers themselves.
The Red Wyrm of Agstowe
Goeð ney unto ða Wyrmburg!
Goeð ney min cild!
Goeð nay unto ða mountain
whære ðy cyn wæs kil’d!
Staye at home wið husbynd
Staye at home wið wyf!
Goeð ney unto ða Wyrmburg
te ryskian ðy lyfe!
—The Wyrmburg, Agstower children’s rhyme
No one can be sure from whence the Red Wyrm came. What is known is when it came; in the year X.412 it swept down into the Three Kingdoms, laying waste to the lands surrounding the great mountain it had claimed as its home. Huge hoards of gold where piled within the depths of the Wyrmburg and an entire generation of brave knights and wizards were undone by its might. There are legends that it is an ancient beast, and amongst the rock gnomes it is said that the Wyrm has slept beneath that great mountain since before men even came to the Wyrmlands.
Men, of course, hold little stock in gnomish opinion. I have spoken to tallfolk all over Agstowe who say that the Wyrm only came in the 5th century of this age. They will ask for evidence that it dwelt there before and say “look you here,” and point at the records of Old Teral. There seem to be no threats of dragon-fire or gold-lust in the Teralian times. But I myself must ask: Could it not then have also been slumbering as it is now?
Either way, the Wyrm of Agstowe roosts in the great mountain known as the Wyrmburg and no hero has ever succeeded in dislodging it. It has been nearly a hundred years since its great rampage across the Three Kingdoms and in all that time it has shown itself only briefly and never exercised the full range of devastation that such a creature commands.
Knowing that they live in the presence of the Wyrm, the people of Agstowe have devoted a lot of time and energy to serpentine or draconic artwork. Dragon-shaped pipes, crossbeams, heraldry, and tapestries are all commonplace in the crafts of Agstowe. Even the king’s palace at Longlaird bears draconic motifs. Of all the people of the kingdom only the dwarves are unafraid of the wyrm. Iron dwarves particularly grumble into their beards about its presence and I would be very surprised if weapons are not being forged in secret places by dwarven smiths to be laid against the day when the wyrm awakens again.
The Land of Giants
The smallfolk of Agstowe seem to have longer memories than the men who dwell there. Perhaps it is because we little people often store much of our histories in oral tradition where men must write things down lest they forget. In the olden olden days when the foremothers of the halflings came down out of the Greensward following the hero Aiveanan there were great Gigantine kingdoms strewn across the land. They say that Aiveanan witnessed a great wrestling match between a battle of giants and a great old black wyrm who had been terrorizing them.
It was these giants who built up the strange mammoth ruins that have been strewn about the Wyrmland; their stones are now weathered to lumps of rock left out in the wind and rain, but they were once great palaces and villas of the ancient Gigantine people. Perhaps that is why lesser giants remain in the Agstower mountains and hills to this day.
Sites like Greatstones and Sinking Walls are evidence of old Giant habitation here. Every so often someone will plow up a huge sword, or a helmet big enough to roof a chicken coop. If men don’t remember a time when giants dwelt in Agstowe, the smallfolk still do.
Aiveanan and the Smallfolk
As I mentioned the hero Aiveanan in the previous section, it occurs to me that his legends might serve as a good way to illustrate the many and varied phases of history that have passed through the Wyrmlands. After all, it has been in the hands of Wyrms, Giants, men, and other races far back in the dawn of time. The travels and wanderings of the halflings may help to illuminate that ancient morning and show us things about the land that we never knew.
Aiveanan was born in the Greensward and longed to leave it. He heard stories of the lands beyond its peaceful borders. The talsam spoke of meetings with elves and the sterk with dwarves. Many of all three halfling kindreds had fought the giants who crossed the sward’s border in ages past. He grew to manhood listening to the legends of Machnanen the Giant-slayer and Beryl Ironfoot.
He clad himself in armor-of-scale and took up a shield and spear and went out into the world. He slew goblins, kobolds, orcs, trolls, and all manner of evil and fell things amongst the great kingdoms of the dawn ages. He was called the Walker or the Wanderer, and it was said that the keen wanderlust of my race touched him sharpest of all. He won many followers from the Greensward, and a band of halflings and gnomes accompanied him wheresoever he went. It was after this that he came to the Wyrmlands and saw the giants wrestling with a wyrm.
When the wyrm had been slain, he stayed there amongst its great riven bones and he explored all the places both above the earth and below. Legends say that his kin are the halflings and gnomes that are scattered throughout the Wyrmlands today, living arm and arm with the Gower. Perhaps he grew fat and old, the patriarch of vast halfling broods and father to many surnames. But the legends tell a different story.
The legends speak of a dark place below the Wyrmlands where dark things gnawed at the earth. It is said that he discovered a lair of bugbears within the highlands and, upon driving into it with his stoutest warriors, found that the caverns had no end but plunged ever-deeper into the earth. Beneath the bugbear enclave there were older tunnels, worked by hands. An ancient dwarvish stronghold from the very foundation of their race, perhaps. But it had been overrun by goblins of great stature and fierceness (that we call hobgoblins today). Still, he pressed on.
They had sealed all the lower levels, from which they themselves had come, for down into the darkness the tunnels squirreled until they connected with endless warrens and dark caverns through which there lurked the huge and horrible Trolls, their kin, and the races which made war with them and which were more horrible still. An ancient Trollish place, it was, built before the creation of the sun and steeped in evil things. He plunged deeper into those depths, and was never seen nor heard from again. At least, that is how the halflings tell of it.
Either way, at least one out of every three halflings you meet in Agstowe or any of the Three Kingdoms will claim to be a descendant of Aiveanan. While this seems physically improbable, it is possible that many of them are the distant kin of Aiveanan’s band, descended from the halflings that traveled in his retinue.