Alandar: The Kingdom of Akral
The Kingdom of Akral, known as the Jewel of the West, was first founded in the 32nd year of Keeper Ethorim, the first Keeper of the Balance, by King Tolion the Uniter, who restored order to the western reaches of Warlock King Spidrahk’s ruined empire with a powerful army and a strong sense of ambition. An age later, the kingdom Tolion founded still flourishes along the western coast of the Sea of Syrin, still united by more or less the same powerful army and undying ambition, though it has changed from a rough and tumble borderland to a refined and civilized nation-state. Over the centuries, Akral has often struck out against its neighbors in attempts to both expand its territory and quash those who would threaten its borders, making it less than popular with many Western nations. Oddly enough, however, it is thanks to this territorial aggression (as manifested by the Akrallian Wars) that the Alliance exists in the first place. Fate is truly a strange path…
Akral is a feudal kingdom ruled by a cluster of noble families that can trace their lineage all the way back to King Tolion and his progeny. On a basic level, the realm of Akral is divided into about four dozen small territories, each ruled by a chevalier, or knight. All of these knights owe fealty to the King of Akral, but they also are affiliated with one another through family ties. The most senior member of any given family holds the honorary title of ‘Lord of the Realm’ and, while the King outranks him in all matters of state, he acts as the voice of all his family’s holdings and dictates policy within the lands ruled by his chevalier cousins and nephews. These lords typically live in Akral itself, so that they may stay close to the king and advise him should he require their counsel, though some lords—particularly those living on the western borders—remain closer to their lands, where they are needed most.
Succession in Akral is strictly hereditary, passing from father to son. Should a Lord die, his own holdings pass to his son, who now becomes chevailier of the region, but it is the next most senior chevalier (typically the former Lord’s younger brother or cousin) who assumes the role of Lord for the family and travels to Akral to advise the King. Women in Akral are not permitted to own land, and are only considered politically important insofar as they can marry favorably and create alliances between noble families. In the case of the King, death without an heir frequently results in a contest being set by the ruling families to test whom the next king should be. This has only happened a handful of times throughout history, and in every instance the contests were wildly dangerous and tainted by the constant danger (or actuality) of civil war – harrowing to say the least.
Militarily speaking, each chevalier maintains a house guard of his own troops and ‘donates’ one tenth of his forces to the King to form the Royal Army. In times of great need or when the King has declared open war on another nation, the King assumes command of all the Akrallian armies and commands them all under the banner of the Royal Army of Akral. During all other times, all soldiers and warships obey the commands of their ruling chevalier and the edicts of their family’s Lord. Inter-territorial disputes and skirmishes between rival families are not uncommon and are tolerated by the King, so long as they do not get out of hand. The Royal Army is always standing by to quell rebellions, and they are quite effective at the practice.
Lands and Points of Interest
Akral is the second largest of the Alliance nations, with Eddon being the only one larger. Nevertheless, the Kingdom is much smaller than it was in its early years, when it ruled modern day Akral, much of Eddon, and the whole of the Verisi Peninsula. Today, Akral stretches from the Gulf of Eddon in the south to the Great Forest of Isra’Nyil in the north and is bordered on east and west by Eretheria and Eddon, respectively.
The southern regions of Akral are thickly forested and largely untamed. Woodsmen and fur trappers live in the depths of the Brutwood and bring in a steady stream of lumber and pelts that craftsmen shape into some of the finest clothing and furniture in the world. Akrallian woodwork, any merchant will tell you, sells for twice its normal worth in any foreign market. Along the coast, vineyards cultivate grapes for Akrallian wines and numerous ports take in ships from throughout the Alliance. Coastal Akral is easily the most wealthy and prestigious region of the kingdom, and beautiful castles lining its shores speak to both the artistry of Akrallian architecture and the sheer size of its defenses.
North of the Brutwood lies miles upon miles of lush, green farmland and rolling hills of wheat and grain. Life takes on a slower pace here in the north, and the provincial beauty of the region, with its ancient castles and fields of wildflowers, make it a place few Akrallians ever wish to leave—nobles included. Of course, the further north one gets, the fewer Akrallians there are, until one reaches areas near the Forest that, though technically within the borders of a chevailier’s territory, are seldom patrolled and even more sparsely populated. It is through this corridor that the Eddon drovers take their cattle to market in the East every year.
The City of Akral: The seat of Akrallian Kings for two thousand years, the elegant mageglass spires of Akral’s Silver Palace can be seen across the waters of the Syrin for miles. A walled city situated along the coast, Akral holds more than 140,000 people within its outer walls. The city is separated into three sections: The Outer Section includes all commoners and merchants who live between the inner walls and the outer walls, and it is by far the largest part of the city. The Inner Section is within the millennium-old Inner Walls and is wholly populated by the noble families and their grand homes, circling around the Silver Palace and the Uniter’s Plaza, which makes up the center of city. Finally, standing just outside the outer walls along the shore, is the Foreign Section, where inns, taverns, and gambling houses cater to the large merchant and foreign population that travels through the city on a regular basis. There, in the Foreign Markets, can be purchased Akrallian wine and lumber as well as fine furniture and furs. Eddon cattle are sold here, as well as the daily catches of every local fishermen for miles. Foreign goods from as far away as Tasis can be bought here as well, if one is willing to pay the hefty tariffs levied by Akral’s King upon all imports—a point of contention in the High Council of the Alliance to this day.
In the city proper, Akral’s streets are wide and paved, and its sophisticated sewer system (designed by the Builders of Eretheria four centuries earlier) make it among the cleanest and most appealing cities in the world. The countless small common houses, quaint chapels, and dainty homes of its citizens belie the power of the kingdom somewhat. Many who visit Akral often wonder where all the armies are, but they are there, and in force—housed in the four great Gates of the city. It is there that the Royal Army lives and trains with some of the most advanced magical weaponry the world has to offer (products of the Royal Artifactory, located very near the Silver Palace in the Inner Section).
Culture and People
The word used most often when referring to the people of Akral, noble or otherwise, is proud. Akral is a nation of rich cultural heritage and a strong sense of patriotism that pervades every aspect of its people’s lives. Every Akrallian child knows the stories of Tolion the Uniter and the Keeper Polimeux by heart, and every Akrallian adult remembers with pride the victories of Akral’s armies and curses those few enemies wily enough to defeat their nation on the field of battle.
History and tradition are key to life in Akral. Every noble is a student of their country’s heraldry just as every farmer knows all the stories of his village dating back as far as Tolion. To be ignorant of the past is to be ignorant of one’s own identity, and to disrespect that past by violating tradition is to forget yourself. Accordingly, religious and secular traditions and customs are many in Akral, and any visitor would be well-advised to study up on Akrallian etiquette before even thinking about attending an Akrallian dinner party. Prickly towards outsiders, as already described, more than a few deadly duels have been fought after a visitor picked up the wrong napkin to dab his lips during a Royal Banquet. Likewise, rude or disrespectful visitors in common society are likely to find themselves put outside and shunned by proper Akrallian peasants and shopkeepers. Remember, to insult an Akrallian’s traditions is to insult his family, his country, and his King—a serious offense.
The people of Akral are, almost to a man, enamoured with their King and country. Though taxation is heavier here than in neighboring Eddon or even parts of Eretheria, the people do not seem to mind. To them, the chevaliers are heroes, and are deserving of their taxes. After all, it was their current chevalier’s grandfather who defeated so-and-so at the battle of such-and-such, and for that alone they are worthy of anything they require. Truly there is a sense of invincibility among the Akrallians, both noble and common. They have always been successful, they will always be successful—they are better than everyone else. Why not be proud?
Whereas some peoples of the Alliance feel close kinship with the people of neighboring states, those of Akral do not share this view. Akral is very much an independent nation, and its people support their King over the Council or even the Keeper. Travelers in Akral may find locals to be more aloof or cool in their attitude towards them when compared with the warm welcomes they grew accustomed to in Eretheria or Galaspin. This does not mean that Akral is a nation of snobs and braggarts, but rather that, were Akrallians to have their way, they would prefer to be left to their own devices without the need for ‘foreign’ influence.
Still, Akrallians are capable of being lighthearted and having fun. Among the commoners, the Hannite holidays are major events in every community, and plays depicting the triumphs of Akrallian heroes are very popular. Parades are a standard facet of city life in Akral, and draw massive crowds of both nobility and peasantry. Among the nobles, grand balls and tournaments of combat are regularly held, bringing out all of Akral’s finest in their silks, velvets, and burnished armor. Furthermore, hunting foxes and deer in the Akral forest and falconry on the plains of the north are likewise considered gentlemanly pursuits. Stylistically speaking, Akral sets the pace for the rest of the Alliance. Akrallian music, fashion, architecture, and art spread out on Akrallian ships and with Akrallian merchants to inundate the courts of nations as far away as Illin or even Benethor. Indeed, when one strolls through the perfumed streets of Akral on the King’s birthday and watches the mageglass armored Royal Army march through the streets while women in elaborate Akrallian dresses watch from gilded balconies, it is not difficult to see why this beautiful nation is afforded the title ‘Jewel of the West.’
The advent of the Illini Wars thirty years ago touched off a firestorm in Alliance politics. The armies of Rhond, Illin, Galaspin, and Saldor struggled to hold back the advance of the Kalsaari legions and begged their allies in Eddon, Eretheria, Ihyn, Veris, and Akral to help. Though Eddon and Eretheria was eventually drawn into the war, Verisi mercenary companies jumped the Rhondian border in droves, and even the Ihynish provided logistical support, Akral stood apart. Not a single Akrallian chevallier set foot in the war-torn southeast, and not a drop of Akrallian blood was spilled in defense of its allies. This initially put Akral on rocky political ground regarding its neighbors and allies, and the handful of years following the war saw a great deal of bitterness towards the Jewel of the West grow. With the ascension of Keeper Polimeux II, however, this abated. Polimeux II, formerly Archmage DelKatar, is an Akrallian by birth and his recognition by the Arcanostrum served to assuage affronted Akrallian pride and smooth over relations with the prickly country. Akral is currently enjoying the greatest renaissance of its long history, with the ever more sorcerous sophisticated world bringing the fashion, customs, and goods of Akral closer to the rest of the West. More than ever before, Akral is the seat of culture and sophistication in the Alliance. This fact, however, is still viewed with some bitterness among those Galaspiners, Rhondians, and Illini who suffered during the wars with no help from those effete snobs across the sea.