Another excerpt from the up-and-coming-Atlas (by this rate I'll post the whole damn thing online before I've even assembled it!)
The Three Kingdoms
For most of Arunian history the kingdoms of Cymballar, Agstowe, and Fegonwé didn’t exist. They were created by the fall of the midland empire known as Teral at the end of the fourth century of the Tenth Age. They share a common ancestry, having been ruled by various overlords throughout their history: Caruel, Essad, Soloth, Teral.
Bright Cymballar lies west of Agstowe, north of Teral, and north-east of Umrbinol. It’s a lush kingdom, divided into four general sections: the Mede, the Norht, the Swamp, and East (a division established by the Court Chronicler Elus Caradus). The erldoms of the north are rocky and harsh, while the Mede is lush and well-cultivated. The swamp is home to many gnomish and halfling trappers, while the East is also quite rocky but is heavily wooded.
The people of Cymballar call themselves “the Gower.” They’re of mixed descent, partially Eylic, partially imperial, and partially Valelan. These gowerfolk inhabit all the Three Kingdoms, and they’ve come to see themselves as one people.
The land is rich is gemstones, and much trade do the Cymballene do abroad with their many stones. It’s often said that eager folk need only go to a river in that kingdom and dig their hands deep into the stones at the bottom to pull up fabulous riches. While this is not quite true, the wealth of gemstones and river-panning leaves Cymballar rich; even Cymballene peasants dress in brilliant colors.
Cymballar was originally the province of Symbalia, under second imperial rule. This province encompassed all of the Three Kingdoms today and was seeded with imperial outposts. Still, the outposts were never integrated in any real way. They remained fortresses and scattered military garrisons and the settlements of Symbalia were left to their own devices and imperial culture never really touched them.
Symbalians fought valiantly for the last emperor of the Second Empire, Malleor, on a field not far from Cymballar. The Battle of the Tidewater was the bloody last stand of the imperial forces in a long and brutal war with the giants of Pernag. When the emperor was killed and the imperial corps dispersed, the Symbalians returned home... but there was soon no home to return to. The empire fell at the end of the Fifth Age, and soon enough the Haxrean empires, the Twin Empires, would swell and thunder over Cymballar and Fegonwé.
There was a short time when Symbalian kingdoms ruled, likely from the old imperial seats but with an Eylic eye to administration, before the coming of Soloth and Caruel. It was Caruel which conquered most of what is now known as Cymballar and Caruen overlords were dispatched from their great cities to administer the land and provide a steady stream of fighting-slaves to the bloated Caruen army.
It wasn’t until VII.642 that Caruel was destroyed, and the people of Symbalia had by that time long grown used to being a colony of that dark empire. Many of them had served in the Caruen empire and the erldoms hadn’t even been conceived of. A sort of new Caruel seemed like it could be born from the Symbalian peoples but missionaries from the south had managed to work against the Caruen influences and slowly convert the locals to the worship of Haeron, away from the dark powers that Caruel called gods: demons, devils, and other such evil spirits.
The mass conversions were undertaken at the behest of the highland barbarians who had long been kept from the lowlands by the Caruens. They were a strange admixture of Dorlandath, Alurath, and Valela barbarians who would eventually become known as the Gower.
Elves, who had dwelled in secret in the forest known as the Alfwood throughout the life of Caruel, emerged from their wood. They made alliances with the Gower and together took control of the lowlands. A young Gower woman succeeded her father as chieftain of her tribe and soon made herself queen over all the region that would become known as Cymballar.
Seeking a new identity, one separate from the evils of Caruel, this young Queen named Alaria sponsored a great revival of interest in the Second Empire. She took up residence at an imperial fortress and so began the history of Cymballar proper, taking its name from the Symbalene province.
Her history has been wrought with danger and war; Her cousin kingdoms of Agstowe and Fengondé didn’t even exist, and had to be wrung from the hands of cruel masters: Teral and Essad. Support ever came from Cymballene queens and the erls they had created, and Cymballene knights fought for the rebellions there that led the foundation of those kingdoms.
The sign of Cymballene authority has ever been the queen. There have never been kings in Cymballar—the closest any may come is to be called the queen-consort. The queens are supported by system of nobility known as the erls, which is an Eylic term adopted from the fallen kingdom of Middlemark.
The erls sit a council below the queen which acts as both her advisors and as a legislative body. Only erls may be appointed to the highest positions in the land, and they are granted permission to attend on their queen in times of war. They have power over their own territories and spend much of their time there. All nobility in the kingdom can be divided into greater or lesser—the lesser category containing the small baronets and knights who serve the erls. There are no dukes or counts and no great overarching duchies; all the lands are broken up between the barons and erls, who serve the queen.
Commoners cannot ascend to the greater nobility, but they can be knighted by distinguishing themselves on the field of battle. While the queen alone has the power to make or unmake new erls, she has not done so since the original division of the kingdom.
The common folk are mostly human, though there are a number of halflings and even more forest gnomes that live in Cymballar. All aspire to the heights of knighthood and associate the romantic virtues of Llyris and Middlemark with the position. It is one of the only lands of the north where you may see a knighted gnome riding along upon a sleek but heavy-hoofed pony with a lance!
The Knights of the Glittering Banner and the local forces of the erls make up the entirety of the Cymballene armies, alongside the drawing-up of common levies. There are a number of forts that were built in recent years along the northern erldoms to fend off invaders from Soloth and several castles throughout the kingdom, owned almost exclusively by the erls themselves, to help defend against other erls and the orcs that are endemic in the region.
The Cymballene Mindset
A proud people, all folk of Cymballar love their kingdom fiercely. If any were to wrong her or to mention the long dark years of Caruel’s overlordship, this might be enough to drive a Cymballene to anger. Otherwise, they are people in love with both peace and valor. Songs and ditties come easily to them, and they prefer being lofty and gay.
- Cymballenes tend to wear gem colors, and brilliant ones at that.
- Owning a riding or war horse does a great deal towards earning respect in Cymballar.
- The worship of Haeron and Heimir are served above all other gods in Cymballar, and many Heimiran monks are Cymballene, come from that land to serve abroad.
- Gemstones in Cymballar are worth much less than in other kingdoms (save for garnets) due to their strange abundance.
Agstowe is located in the center of the Three Kingdoms, with Cymballar to its west and Fegonwé to its east. Sharply divided between the hills, the rocky uplands, and the marshes at the mouth of the Old River, the people of each part of Agstowe vary widely in their personality. The primary exports of Agstowe are furs and dyes and their trade is mostly with Dorlan.
Most people consider Agstowe a fairly backwards land, and were it not for the danger of the ancient dragon that lurks within the Wyrmburg, it would probably slip the minds of greater folk. However, slumbering in the highest of the Agstower mountains there lies a millennia-old Red Wyrm, the very legend of which attracts adventurers and treasure hunters.
First beneath the Caruens, and then subjugated by the Teralians, Agstowe has been under the influence of one empire or another for centuries. Like Cymballar and parts of western Fegonwé, Agstowe was part of Symbalia that was later conquered by Caruel. Unlike Cymballar, the region that would become Agstowe was only free for a little while once Caruel fell. It was soon subsumed by the growing Teralian state to the south and transformed into a province.
In X.285 the Knights of Miles fought against Teral in the south and burned their holdings in the Greenvale, destroying rick and cot and byre as a retaliation for the Teral emperor’s harboring of the Tharian Mortuary Cult. A young nobleman in Avonus (the name of the province that roughly corresponds to modern-day Agstowe) named Temulus started a small scale rebellion as the army was in the south doing sword-work. Temulus and his rebels were all Avaunites, and they felt a religious obligation to overturn the cult. He was named a bandit and the provincial governor begged the emperor for troops to suppress him.
He attracted a small but loyal number of Avaunite priests to his banner, all of them Gowers and Eyls. The rebellion could have been put down easily, but Emperor Dulus Amenius declared that no Gowers or Eyls could serve in the government as punishment for the Temulan insurgency. This precipitated full scale war in the Gower-heavy regions of Teral. The little rebellion gained hundreds of followers nearly overnight, and soon challenged Amenius’ armies on the field. Though Temulus died in the third year of his rebellion, his paternal uncle took command of the citizen-armies and, when the province broke free, declared himself king. To this day the Temulan kings rule Agstowe.
The last great war in Agstower history was in X.352. It was called the War of Two Brothers, and was fought between Oeric and Ricberct Temulan over their sister, Eadburg, and the kingdom she left behind. However, in X.412 the Wyrm of Agstowe awoke to bring fire and destruction upon the kingdom, and continued terrorizing its people until X.439 when it finally returned to sleep atop its golden couch.
The people of Agstowe are a free common class, ruled over by barons and erls. Every region of the kingdom belongs to either an erl (who are granted the ear of the king or queen), a baron, or the royal demesne itself. Commoners do not own private land property in Agstowe, merely renting it for agreed-upon rents from its lords. This is true even in cities, which have no communal status the way they might in other kingdoms (although to be fair, there is but one real city; the rest of the Agstower settlements are more like large towns).
Both erls and barons form important parts of the system of governance of the kingdom. The erls sit in conference with the ruler and form the Upper or Inner Chamber. This body is charged with making all laws and assisting the royal person in all decisions—but these laws must then be ratified by at least one half of the Outer Chamber, wherein the barons are called twice a year to sit. The Outer Chamber also dispenses all high justice in the kingdom with the assistance of Hierian priests, who act as high magistrates and judges.
Merchants are swiftly gaining new protections from the crown, however. A number of Dorls have entered Agstowe in the past thirty years, seeking to make great profits off of the furs hunted in the highlands (which have become quite fashionable in Dorlan). Foreign merchants have been treated with more dignity and more rights in the time since, opening up the possibility of an emerging mercantile class enshrined in customary law.
Both her rugged countryside and the castles which dot her landscape serve as Agstowe’s protectors. Each erl is required by law to maintain two hundred knights and to bring four times that number in common militia or peasant levies if called. Barons have a much reduced fee, being merely fifteen knights a head. The great castles of the realm are held not by the erls and barons (though they have built their own castles here and there) but primarily by the crown.
The Agstowe Mindset
Agstower are a hardy hunting folk who eschew material pleasure and luxury. They expect hardships from the land, but are extremely warm and accommodating to each other. Strangers may be kept at arm’s length at first, to test them and ensure they can stand on their own. There’s a great disdain for those seen as weak or overly accustomed to a protected city life.
- While all people in Arunia commonly wear knives to eat with, Agstower women are given knives as a wedding gift by their husbands. These blades are mostly ceremonial, though tales persist of women who were forced to use them to slay goblins, raiders, and sometimes even their very own husbands.
- Men of Agstowe tend to dress in warm clothes, particularly adaptations of padded cotes and gambesons common to sword-training in other lands.
- Lowland Agstower eat all manner of things other folks would consider unpleasant. Halflings the kingdom over are renowned for cooking frog’s legs.
- While most people in Arunia are illiterate, there are very very few literate folk in Agstowe, more so than other lands.
The land of Fegonwé lies north-west of Agstowe and south-east of Essad. It is the slaving kingdoms of Essad and Soloth which have shaped it, their ancient outposts mouldering amongst its chilly hills. Arid scrubland and near-desert extends the entire length of Fegonwé. The great hill-forts of ancient Essad and Soloth have given the landscape the nickname “the Twelve Duns,” though the term might just as well be used to describe the color of the soil and grasses.
Alder, crab apple, ash, aspen, and birch along with blackthorn are the only trees which grow in Fegonwé. It has few natural resources save for some tin deposits and a pair of working silver mines, but manages to export a fair amount of pine tar for use in shipbuilding. Life among the Twelve Duns is often melancholy and dangerous, but better than beneath the yoke of some slaver-empire.
The native Fegonwen are descended from ancient Thegnari who were settled north of the imperial Milean borders in the Fourth and Fifth Age. These men bred with Valelans and other descendants of giants. Rather than growing larger, the maintained their small knotty shape and bear some strange resemblance to the Karlungs of Claulan. For several centuries they lived in clan-based societies, interacting only with the dwarves who sometimes filtered down from the Skinchanger Kingdoms and the elves of the Alfwood in Symbalia.
In the late Fifth Age, the city of Askaroth became the seat of a great and powerful new slaving empire: Essad. They rapidly conquered the southern stretches of Fegonwé and the north were later taken by Soloth. Fegonwé itself was not freed until the sorcerers of ancient Dorlinum burned Askaroth to the ground and covered it with shifting sands.
Fegonwé was united in X.99 shortly after the conquests of the half-orc Magron Thur united old Essad again. It was partially this pressure that led to the acquiescence of the clans. In that year King Theobald was crowned lord of the southern duns and master of the Fegonwen March. He used this power to retrench one of the ancient forts and build the castle of Aclath. Theobald and his daughter Ethelberht slowly worked to abolish tribalism in the Duns and make a modern kingdom of their land.
It wasn’t until Ethelberht’s own daughter Berchtild’s time that the clans were finally unmade—or rather transformed into the Twelve Houses of Fegonwé. Berchtild managed this only by fighting a brutal civil war which raged between X.172-88. When she died, the throne was seized by the northern houses and the castle of Aclath fell to ruin.
In the three hundred years since, six of the Twelve Houses have been destroyed and two new ones have been created. The throne has passed between all of them, but currently resides with Aldornath of Northambria, who dwells in his keep along the Solothen March near to the Soldier Hills.
The Fegonwen government is composed of hundreds of back channels and unofficial routes for the simple reason that none of the Houses (now Eight) has an official recourse while a foe holds the throne. Every Fegonwen belongs to the extended tribe or clan of one of the great houses—no man is free from allegiance or commitment, even those who try to escape it.
Common folk owe no taxes or fees unless there is war. Fegonwen do have a slave rank in their society, though they call them thrall: men and women captured during an inter-house war are set to tilling the public fields of the clan.
When war comes (determined by the head of the house) all households are required to send one able-bodied citizen to fight beneath their lord. This generally means that at least one member of every household trains with weapons during their free time, for a great sense of duty flows through most Fegonwen.
The Fegonwen Mindset
The people of Fegonwé are generally calm, even to the point where one might call them cold. They welcome strangers warily, making them at home but watching them for signs of danger. Tightly communal, folk of Fegonwé are strongly tied to their house and their lord, bearing his sign above their hearths and shouting his name when going to war.
- Fegonwen will never travel upon the ancient Solothen or Essadi roads, calling them “slave tracks.”
- Slave traders from Essad or Soloth are slain on sight. Caravans with markings identifying them as belonging to those nations are free game. In fact, if a Fegonwen can reasonably establish that merchants come from Essad or Soloth, he is legally permitted to slay them and confiscate their goods.
- Fegonwen love to take offense, particularly if they are speaking to someone from another house. This offense generally leads to dueling, which is done either to the death, or until three shields have been shattered.
- There are certain Fegonwen warriors said to be blessed by Talleal; these men and women are known as “wild ones.” Speculation is that this tradition comes from Valela, where the same practice is known as berserkergang.