Alandar: The Counties of Eretheria
Stretching between the northern shores of the Sea of Syrin to the southern border of the Forest, Eretheria is among the most picturesque regions of Alandar. Rolling green hills, fields of golden grain, meadows filled with wildflowers, babbling brooks and slivery lakes—Eretheria looks like a page out of a storybook. Unfortunately, a less-than-stable political system keeps this beautiful land from reaching its full potential. Ruled by dozens of independent knights, viscounts, earls, and counts, Eretheria is plagued by limited territorial wars, political assassination, and all manner of other skullduggery makes life less than perfect, but certainly less than boring. Despite the lack of any central leadership, however, Eretheria is one of the wealthiest nations in all of the West, and it is also the seat of the High Council of the Syrinian Alliance itself, making this beautiful, green patch of earth one of the most politically influential places in the world.
It all began with the King. Twenty-five years after the death of the last of the Warlock Kings and very early in the days of the Arcanostrum, a man of legendary vision and unequalled skill rose up from the war-torn ashes to found a beautiful city on the edge of the shimmering Syrin. His name was King Perwyn, and he and his knights were among the first to bring justice and balance to a land so horribly scarred from centuries of warfare and torment. He rooted out evil wherever he found it, he cast down wicked warlords and cruel sorcerers—he was a hero in every respect. By the end, he was among the first rulers to openly support the then-experimental Arcanostrum, and he forged his kingdom of Eretheria under the light of justice and chivalry. Then, for reasons still unknown, he vanished.
Some theorize Perwyn fell in battle. Others believe he was spirited away by selkies. Still others claim that he was victim of a plot hatched by his unfaithful daughter and her warlock suitor. Whatever the truth, the disappearance and assumed death of King Perwyn the Noble, a mere forty years after the founding of his kingdom, sent the fledgling nation into chaos. After decades of war over whom was the rightful heir to Perwyn’s throne, it was finally agreed that no heir would be selected and that, instead, a ruling assembly of nobles would run the nation until, one day, someone could definitively prove to the satisfaction of all that they were Perwyn’s rightful heir. At the time, it was thought that this situation would only last for a few years. That time was fourteen-hundred years ago.
Eretheria today is a bewildering array of fiefdoms and small counties ruled by a variety of noblemen and women of varying title. In loose terms, there are four levels of noble in Eretherian politics. First is the Knight or Dame, who typically rules little more than a small castle and a village or two, including perhaps a few hundred acres and no more. Next up are the Viscount or Viscountess, who are typically in control of a large castle and a few villages or a single town. Above the Viscount is the Earl or Earless, who usually controls a town, small city, or important trading area like a crossroads, a port, or a frontier trading post. Finally, the Count or Countesses rule the largest tracts of land in Eretheria, encompassing thousands of acres and sometimes more than a dozen villages. At present there are only five Counts, about seven Earls, a thirty Viscounts, and close to one-hundred Knights and Dames who hold land in Eretheria.
Inter-fiefdom warfare is common enough here, as each noble tries to protect his lands from his enemies while trying to acquire additional lands of his own. Fortunately, centuries of this kind of thing have resulted in a fairly significant amount of tradition and actual law governing the appropriate and acceptable methods of depriving a neighbor of his title and lands. These laws are passed by the Congress of Peers that meets seasonally in Eretheria, and are only enforced insofar as the other nobles are willing to gang up on a noble who violates them. As this usually means that a group of neighbors can instantly claim a portion of the offending noble’s lands—a very tempting prospect—very few nobles are willing to put themselves in this kind of danger. Examples of the kind of laws passed (and most often enforced) by the Congress includes injunctions against surprise attacks, the sacking of captured towns or villages, and assaults upon the unarmed peasantry. At the other extreme include laws against making fun of Count Vorhemmel’s cats, forbidding the act fornication with the Dame Merrial, or outlawing the color green anywhere in sight of a minstrel. As the Congress is made up of however many members of the nobility care to attend, laws passed can often be petty, nonsensical, or simply intended as jokes at the expense of friends. Such laws are very seldom enforced, though they have, in the past, come in handy when attempting to evade the executioner’s axe or condemn a rival to prison.
The result of all the thousands of laws and scores of small territories of Eretheria is a land so politically chaotic that, oddly enough, nothing ever seems to change. The nobility is well aware of the precarious position they occupy in the political landscape—even the Counts are vastly outnumbered by smaller neighboring fiefdoms—and, accordingly, so many treaties have been signed between parties and the web of family relationships and obligations is so complex that outright war on a vast scale is virtually impossible. As it stands, it may take a particularly adept Viscount the better part of twenty years to maneuver himself into a position where he might absorb a neighboring knight’s territory, and the repercussions of his action stand to actually create another small fiefdom somewhere else in the land. As far as the peasantry are concerned, all this ridiculous plotting and counter-plotting is a lot of noble nonsense, and they largely ignore it. No matter who is in charge of their village, the taxes are always paid to the same place—the castle on the hill over there—and that is about as involved as they want to get.
Fortunately for the peasants, Eretherian nobles seldom involve them in their little wars and skirmishes, preferring to keep a troop of professional soldiers or even mercenaries at their beck and call. For all their military actions, Eretheria has a relatively small number of soldiers compared to large kingdoms like Akral or Eddon. Every knight will have anywhere from twenty to one-hundred men under him whereas even the most powerful Count has an army numbering no more than 4,000 men. It is only when threatened by foreign invasion or the like that the Congress will pass laws to levy troops from the peasantry. This most notably occurred during the Akrallian Wars, when the peerage rallied to repel Akrallian invasion from the west. Most recently, the Falcon King, Perwynnon – the first and only heir to Perwyn to be acknolweged in fourteen centuries – levied some peasant regiments to reinforce Saldorian positions against Sahand’s incursions during the last stages of the Delloran War. These peasant units never saw action and were disbanded as soon as the Treaty of Calassa was signed. The idea of an armed peasantry worries most of Eretheria’s nobles.
Lands and Points of Interest
Eretheria is a thoroughly tamed land, and it has been groomed to be both beautiful and comfortable for those who live there. Squeezed between the military powerhouse of Akral in the west, the impenetrable Isra’Nyil in the north, the magical defenses of Saldor and Galaspin in the east, and the Sea of Syrin in the south, Eretheria has been safe from marauding bands of nurlings, tolls, gnolls, and the like since the War of the Goblin King six centuries ago, and so it has been permitted to flourish unlike almost any other realm in the West.
About 75% of all of Eretheria’s territory is occupied by farms of one type or another, growing just about everything that can be grown. Though lacking in any major waterway, the area is filled with small lakes, ponds, and minor rivers and streams that keep the region well irrigated and very green. The rest of Eretheria is taken up by dozens of towns and villages that dot the countryside at regular intervals. Travelers are never very far from the next inn or the next town when in this area of the world, and it is a place almost entirely lacking in the trackless forests or wide open emptiness found in many other places. There is almost always a castle on the horizon or the glow of firelight through the trees to keep a traveler company and make him feel safe.
Of course, this feeling of safety does not extend much past Eretheria’s northern border. It is a well known fact that the woodkin and Eretherians do not see eye to eye, and the border between Isara’Nyiland the Counties is even more closed than usual. The enigmatic inhabitants of the forest claim they can remember a time when their forest home encompassed much of what is now Eretherian territory, and they do not forget easily. The manicured fields, the well-maintained roads, and the strategically located castles of Eretheria are all gruesome reminders to the woodkin of the way civilization has ravaged the natural world. From their forest outposts, hidden along the edges of the Forest, the keen-eyed forest people watch as the petty Eretherian nobility war and squabble for no discernible reason as their peasants subjugate the earth to their whim, and their distaste for their neighbors grows. Only a fool would attempt to enter the forest from Eretheria, and only a hero of the highest caliber could ever be expected to emerge again.
Eretheria’s infrastructure is far superior to that of most of her neighbors, as funding public works projects is often a form of punitive action taken against misbehaving nobles. Roads connect most places here, and it is rare to find a stream without a bridge. Both the Old Coast Road and the Freegate Road are very well maintained by the viscounts that oversee their routes, and visitors should expect to encounter an inordinate number of tollhouses and way-stations along them.
The City of Eretheria
It is interesting to note that the city of Eretheria, known also as the City of the King, is missing a defensive feature common to almost every other city in the world—a wall. Destroyed during a siege by the Ihynish army during the Akrallian wars, the walls of Eretheria were never rebuilt following the Treaty of Syrin, and the city was permitted to grow without such a check on its growth. Stretching lazily across gentle hills and along white-sand beaches, Eretheria is a city of some 120,000 diplomats, politicians, ambassadors, nobility, and assassins all living in the very lap of luxury on the shores of the Syrin.
Central to the Eretherian skyline is Peregrine Palace, the sprawling palace complex that houses both the Congress of Peers and the High Council of the Alliance itself. The oldest sections of the palace were supposedly built by King Perwyn himself, including the 800 foot high tower at its center that gives the palace its name. Roosting in nooks and small windows along its height are a veritable flock of peregrine falcons that keep the city’s famous population of white pigeons in check. The tower’s base is located just behind the ancient throne room of the King himself. The throne remains unoccupied on the dais, awaiting for the heir’s return, but the rest of the chamber is the meeting place for the Congress of Peers, who mill about the floor shouting and quibbling among themselves. The base of the tower itself, once kept as a reliquary for the legend of Perwyn, now has a new inhabitant: the body of Perwynnon, kept in stasis and lying in state for the past twenty-five years, upon a bier of white stone and clad in his silver armor. New additions to the palace include the elegant domed chamber that constitutes the meeting place of the High Council as well as an entire wing given over to the Arcanostrum for its exclusive use. Few outside of the staff-bearing know what goes on in that part of the complex, and none have yet dared to ask—the local Master Defender is not known for his good humor.
The city itself is a charming muddle of twisted streets and beautiful gardens, where one might find a brothel across the street from an elegant manse. To the untrained eye, this seems confusing, but those in the know quickly explain that the city is separated by political faction rather than by economic or social class. Consequently, Eretheria is actually a compilation of five or six smaller cities all crammed into one metropolis, where each group of regional nobility oversees their own market, noble, common, and merchant districts. An exception to this organizational rule is the diplomatic quarter, which encircles Peregrine Palace and is where of all the Alliance and foreign ambassadors keep their homes. It is also important to note that, though a variety of competing factions are always present in the city, Eretheria is neutral ground, both for foreigners and the Eretherians themselves. No soldiers beyond personal bodyguards are permitted within the city limits, no Eretherian noble is permitted to attack or lay siege to the city, and security within the city limits is actually handled by the Defenders of the Balance.
One thing that all who visit Eretheria remember above all other things are the gardens. Designed and created by the Builders, the Gardens of Eretheria are a chain of horticultural gardens incorporating breathtaking mageglass architecture accompanied by the most breathtaking magecraft available. Each is a levitating hunk of earth, floating anywhere from five to fifty feet off the ground, and each a compliment to the last as they spiral slowly inwards towards the center of the city, where Peregrine Palace rests on the shores of Lake Elren. The surroundings of the shallow lake form the final garden, situated at the heart of the diplomatic quarter. Graceful arched bridges of mageglass cross the lake in a half-dozen places while water lilies and swans float between small pleasure craft and ferries. The garden is open to the public and lit by illumite torches by night, making it one of the greatest attractions for visitors to the City of the King.
Culture and People
The people of Eretheria are a complicated people, in many ways the perfect mirror image of their political background. Here, the worth of a person isn’t so much what they know as who they know, how long they have known them, and how important they are to that other person. Eretherians are constantly playing a game of status with one another, trying to prove their importance in the community or in the family through whatever means necessary. The idea of community and the importance of social acceptance is paramount to Eretherian life. On the bright side, this makes most Eretherians come across as diplomatic, capable, and affable companions, however this impression is equally as common as those who see them as sycophants, liars, and opportunists.
Eretheria is a land of plenty and, in its own way, it is sheltered from the hardships that plague most of its neighbors. Most Eretherian peasants have never seen a troll or a nurling, let alone an arahk, and the only warfare they have experienced is the limited and rather civilized conflicts conducted between local knights and viscounts. Thanks to this, most Eretherians are inexperienced when it comes to dealing with non-humans and many refuse to believe in the concept of an ‘intractable enemy.’ There is always a deal to be made, an agreement to be reached. It may sound naïve, but Eretherians are confident in their ability to compromise and find common cause with any they meet.
All of this makes the people of Eretheria sound gullible and ignorant, and this simply isn’t true. Eretherians are very well educated and even the peasantry can read and write after a fashion. As their nation plays host to people from all over the world, Eretherians rub elbows with all kinds of people and absorb all manner of interesting information. Most Eretherian knights are at least nominally acquainted with Kalsaari dances and no self-respecting countess would be unaware of the latest fashions in Akral, Saldor, or Rhond. Eretherian parties are the most diverse and socially important affairs in the West, where Benethoran knights can be seen conversing with Eddon soldiers and traders from the Free Islands share drinks with Delloran merchants. So, while it can be said that an Eretherian socialite has never been to a real battlefield, it certainly shouldn’t be claimed that they have never met a real soldier.
While the nobility party and carouse, peasant life in Eretheria is far less exciting. The lower classes of this region are better off here than most any other commoners in the world, thanks to fertile farmland, secure borders, and an excellent infrastructure. Left out of the hustle and bustle of Eretherian politics entirely, peasants lead boring, uneventful, and peaceful lives farming and bringing their wares to market once or twice a season, depending on the crops they grow. With so little to do and less to worry about, Eretherians are famed for the pastimes they have developed. It is thanks to the taverns and common houses of Eretheria that such games as darts, dice, magestones, and even playing cards exist in the world. Furthermore, the legends and folklore of this ancient land are likewise rich and textured. Bards and minstrels travel the Eretherian countryside freely, and are given free room and board at any tavern they enter should their songs and tales prove entertaining. Figuring most prominently among Eretherian legends are those surrounding Perwyn and his noble knights as well as frightening tales of the woodkin and selkies spiriting away children or laying curses on innocent young lovers. As Eretheria is a land in which the community is always at the front of everyone’s mind, it is not unusual to find entire villages crowded inside the local tavern, listening to stories, playing dice, and gossiping among themselves.
In some ways, peasant and noble life are not that different. Political and civic power schemes are constantly working in the back of both classes minds. Poor farmers seek to marry their sons to the daughters of wealthy smiths or innkeepers just as nobles try to cheat one another out of their lands or levy taxes on a neighboring territory’s grain. Being direct in Eretherian society is a taboo, as etiquette and politeness count for more than any other factor when trying to obtain something. Rival villagers may spend weeks trying to gain revenge on each other through elaborate pranks where, in other countries, a simple fist-fight would end the dispute. To the Eretherians, this is simply the way it is done—anything else would be barbaric and crude—but to the foreigner it can seem a bit perplexing. It is important to remember that here social embarrassment or exile is far more frightening than even death, and an Eretherian will go to great lengths to avoid it. It is curious to note in this regard that the most serious punishment that can be levied by most Eretherian courts—rated even higher than the death penalty—is banishment. In Eretheria, you need to be part of a group to be worth something or, to use modern parlance, you need to be ‘cool.’ Without it, you are nothing more than a renegade, a criminal, or an urchin and utterly without defenses in this country of competitive cliques.
Eretheria featured very prominently in the political landscape of the Illini/Delloran Wars. As soon as war was declared diplomats from Saldor, Rhond, Illin, and Galaspin descended upon City of the King to try and influence their allies in Eddon, Veris, Akral, Ihyn, and Eretheria to enter the conflict. Meanwhile, Kalsaari and Delloran diplomats worked to counter these offers. Duels were fought, assassins deployed, and gold flowed like a river through the streets. Everybody was a spy for everybody else.
In the midst of this mayhem emerged a remarkably deft and talented young man whose original name has been lost to time, but who the history books remember as the Falcon Knight, Perwynnon. Perwynnon, according to legend, wasn’t even a native Eretherian, but his charm, political acumen, and skill with a blade made him a force to be reckoned with in short order. For a solid year, the rumor-mills of Eretheria were overflowing with tales of Perwynnon’s heroism – rescuing this damsel, dispatching this villain, saving this village or that. In the midst of such derring do, Perwynnon, a staunch pro-Alliance voice, began to build a coalition among the most influential counts and viscounts. When he at last presented himself at the Blue Party – the yearly ball held in Peregrine Palace celebrating the end of the campaigning season – he made a splash never to be forgotten. He defeated two assassins while at the party in two separate duels and then declared himself a descendant of Perwyn himself. The nobility he had courted supported his claim and, not wanting to be left out of what was an intoxicatingly good time, the rest of the nobility followed suit. Perwynnon was king of Eretheria – the first in 1450 years.
Perwynnon marshaled his knights and vassals to war immediately, moving to defend Galaspin which had, by that time, been entirely conquered by Banric Sahand of Dellor. It was at the battle of Calassa that Perwynnon and all the heavy cavalry of Eretheria charged into the flank of Sahand’s armies, routing them from the field. Such a charge had never been seen before and is unlikely to ever be seen again.
Perwynnon did not long outlive his victory, however. Within two years, his body was found in his bedchamber. Everyone assumed poison, but the cause of death was never determined and the list of potential poisoners too long to investigate. Besides, the nobility had grown tired of their hero king and, though the public mourning was elaborate, behind closed doors everyone seemed silently glad there was no king for them to bow to. Eretheria is, if anything, even more chaotic than before the war, as now the idea of a king is no longer so foreign or outlandish and many seek to become heir to the Falcon King’s legacy.