Alandar: The Duchy of Galaspin
Ruling the better part of the fertile Trell River Valley, Galaspin is country of adventurers, entrepreneurs, explorers, and craftsmen who have forged for themselves and impressively stable, if somewhat corrupt, nation in an area coveted by everyone from nurlings to Dellorans to the distant arahk. While not as wealthy as Eretheria, powerful as Akral, large as Eddon, or influential as Saldor, Galaspin has established its reputation on its good relationship with the prickly Guilds of Freegate and its undying devotion to the Arcanostrum and the Alliance — two connections that have served it well over the centuries. Known as the “terriers of the West” Galaspin’s greatest export — heroes — has placed its name in the annals of every history book from Eddon to Obrinport.
Galaspin is not a feudal kingdom in the manner of Eretheria or Akral. The Duke of Galaspin is the supreme ruler of the territory—he makes the laws, he levies the army, he collects the taxes. There are no ‘noble’ houses here, and the title of ‘knight’ or ‘baron’ is simply an indication of a level of service to the Duke, bestowed upon whomsoever His Grace sees as fit to fulfill the position at hand. Barons serve as executive overseers of certain areas of country, usually working from a home base in a castle or small town with a series of knights underneath them as deputies, and act with the Duke’s full authority, though they are not allowed to supercede that authority in any way. The Duke is advised by the Parliament of Guilds—an association of guild leaders (called ‘Guild Lords’) that keeps the Duke appraised of the economic and social needs of the people. Though they have no actual power in Galaspin political life, the Guild Lords represent a large, wealthy, and influential group of people who, if angered, could cause serious trouble for a headstrong Duke and possibly even have him overthrown. This, in theory, keeps the Duke somewhat in check and makes sure that he pays attention to his people…that is, in theory anyway.
In practice, Galaspiner politics is far less cut-and-dry. Though the Duke does hold sway in all matters of state, the Dukes of Galaspin have been, by and large, great admirers of a laissez-faire philosophy of government. Though the Duke’s barons will keep the peace and ensure that life runs smoothly, all it takes for an enterprising individual to get the law to look the other way is to put a little money in the local baron’s coffers. Known as paying ‘right tribute,’ such bribes are perfectly legal in Galaspin, so long as the Duke gets his cut. Of course, Galaspiner law is designed to require as many of these bribes as possible, meaning that there are de facto rules and regulations governing just about every possible aspect of society. Want to build a house larger than 10’ x 10’? Pay right tribute. Want to sink a well on your farm deeper than 12’ 6”? Pay right tribute. Want to get married without a local knight coming to ‘inspect’ the bride? Pay right tribute. The size of these tributes is largely dependent on what the briber can afford, though being unfriendly with the local baron can cause a Galaspiner incredible headaches as they find the cost to own so much as a single horse and saddle is exorbitant.
Despite the inherent corruption in the system, rare are the instances when a baron is able to abuse or exploit those beneath him without repercussions. Repercussions take the form of the guilds that blanket every facet of common life in Galaspin. Just about anybody a baron seeks tribute from is likely a member of one guild or another (or is relatives with someone who is), be it the Bakers’ Guild, the Smiths’ Guild, or even the Thieves’ Guild. If a guild finds that a local baron is abusing his power or being needlessly harsh to a guild member, the local Guild Lord will often loan the victim the money to pay off the baron, place sanctions on the baron’s household, or, in rare instances, hire private mercenaries to intimidate or even kill the troublesome lord. At least once every few years there is an instance where a headstrong or foolish knight crosses the wrong guild and winds up being challenged to a duel with a scarred old mercenary and *poof!* , no more knight. As if this set of checks and balances weren’t enough, the Duke himself keeps a corps of professional soldiers on retainer. Should any civil unrest get out of hand, the Ducal Guard are quickly on the scene to put a stop to it in a bloody confrontation. Usually Guild Lords and barons do everything in their power to avoid this kind of trouble, settling their differences as peaceably as possible to evade the Duke’s attention.
Much of how smoothly the Galaspiner government runs is dependent on the capabilities of the Duke (or Duchess) him/herself. Galaspin’s history is filled with tales of both wise and cruel Dukes who have brought the country both to the heights of prosperity or the depths of famine and war. Succession in Galaspin is hereditary, and the closest to a ‘noble’ class that Galaspin has is in how closely one’s family is related to the Duke’s. Should a Duke die with no heirs, the ducal historians will search the birth records until such time as they can find the next closest relative, who will then become Duke. Succession has proceeded in this manner without interruption since the nation’s founding some 1200 years ago, and, barring any unforeseen catastrophe, it will likely continue in this vein, as well. The current Duke, Umbar Greathand II, has four sons, all in great health, and Umbar’s direct line has been in power for better than three centuries. They have ruled wisely, and are respected, if not liked, by their people.
Diplomatically speaking, Galaspin is one of the most important nations in the Alliance. Through Galaspin, the Alliance has the ear of one of the most cantankerous governments in the world: the Free City of Freegate. The relationship between Freegate and the Galaspin predates the founding of the Duchy itself, during the First Arahkan War, where refugees from both Galaspin and the Dragonspine were fleeing the Arahk. Much is written about how the Galaspiners helped the mountain people survive outside of their beloved mountains and how the mountainfolk, in turn, sold their lives defending Galaspiner civilians that had given them shelter. Following the end of the war, where Galaspin soldiers and mountain chieftains had fought side by side, the Great Mountain King granted a rare audience with the Chieftain of the Valley, where the two rulers, it is reported, struck up a grand friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. Since that time, the mountain folk (and the Freegaters that descended from them) and the Galaspiners have gained a lot from one another. The guilds of Freegate sell the humans raw iron ore and worked metal goods while, in turn, the Galaspiners give Freegate access to such lowland fineries as steak, wine, grain, and a magical assistance (should they need it). Galaspin’s famed bodyguards have been known to work for traveling Freegate merchants just as a pair of veteran Freegate advisors always attend the Duke in matters of finance or diplomacy. Also, the close relationship between the two peoples through the years has led to the intermingling of cultures. It is not by chance that the Guild Lords hold such sway over Galaspin, nor is it an accident that native Freegaters model their military training and education after Galaspiner models.
Finally, though it is important to mention the Galaspiner relationship with Freegate, one must remember that it isn’t to the Guilds but to Saldor that Galaspin owes its allegiance. As the first nation to pledge its support the Arcanostrum, Galaspin has been its most stalwart defender since time immemorial. It was Galaspin’s ancestors that bled to defend Saldor from the arahk of the First Arahkan War, Galaspin that marched against the Nurlings when Oodnar the Goblin King ravaged the land, and Galaspin that guarded the Aranostrum from Ihynish occupation during the Akrallian Wars. Where Saldor goes, so too goes Galaspin. This, of course, has its benefits. Mage Towers (Arcanostrum-accredited magical institutions) can be found scattered across the Duchy, magical items tend to be cheaper there than elsewhere, and Galaspiners are very popular in Saldor as a rule. Also, more Galaspin natives have ascended to the office of Keeper than any other single nationality—a fact that drives Akral crazy.
Land and Points of Interest
Galaspin is almost wholly located in the Trell River Valley, the city itself perched at the split of the Trell and Magis Rivers in the heart of this fertile area. Like Eretheria to its west, southern Galaspin’s climate is mild and its growing season long, and Galaspin farms grow a variety of crops—everything from wheat in the heartlands to cranberries in the south, apple orchards in the northwest to sheep and goats on the slopes of the Dragonspine in the east. Though less densely populated than Eretheria, Galaspin is a highly civilized nation, with good roads, frequent taverns and villages along the major highways. Its network of defensive towers and forts, however, were mostly destroyed when the Mad Prince Sahand invaded the country during the Illini/Delloran wars and have yet to be entirely rebuilt due to a variety of political reasons.
Due to this under-build defensive infrastructure Galaspin is nowhere near as safe and secure as its western neighbors. The Duchy is tied with Illin as the second most dangerous place in the Alliance (the first being Eddon, of course), as Galaspin’s borders are teeming with all manner of dangers. To the north lies the region of wilderness between the Dragonspine and the Great Forest that stretches north all the way to Dellor. This has long been a haven for bandits, raiders, trolls, nurlings, and others who strike south to attack the trade routes headed for Trell’s Pass and Freegate. Furthermore, the mountains are a constant source of nurling threat. Finally, thanks to its status as a sort of crossroads for everyone heading from West to North or vice versa, Galaspin is a haven for mercenary bands of all sizes and descriptions. While some of these bands are legitimate and behave themselves, many more cause as much civil unrest and pose as great a threat to the Duchy as they do bolster the Duchy’s defenses. The Ducal Guard, assisted by local knights, are constantly attempting to regulate and reign in these sometimes dangerous groups, but attacks on villages and towns occur nevertheless. Because of this, it is unusual to find a Galaspiner who does not go about armed with at least a quarterstaff, dagger, or poniard to aid in his or her defense should a nurling pop out of a hole or a mercenary challenge him to a duel.
Finally, though they share only a short border with Isara’Nyil, Galaspin has no more cordial a relationship with the woodkin than do the Eretherians. Unlike the Eretherians, however, Galaspin is always attempting to rectify this situation, hoping in their eternally optimistic and determined way, that they might be granted logging rights to portions of the forest. Their overtures have gone unanswered for at least the last 1000 years, but who knows? As they say here: By tomorrow, today will be yesterday, and that changes everything.
The City of Galaspin: Resting astride the great Trell River, the city of Galaspin is a bustling hub of trade and commerce that is populated by some 56,000 people. Split as it is by the river, the city is segmented into two regions—Eastbank and Westbank. The majority of the indigenous population makes its home in Eastbank, where the government offices, guild halls, and local Magetower can be found, as well as the Freegate Embassy (also known as the Freegate Exchange). Westbank is the haven for most people just passing through the territory, and is home to most of the inns, stables, marketplaces, and is also where the heaviest fortifications are to be found.
Though technically part of the same city, the two parts of Galaspin are entirely capable of existing independently of one another in the case of a siege. Each has its own walls and guardhouses as well as their own barracks, though the barracks of Westbank are the larger of the two. The four bridges that span the Trell River are constructed to be not only sturdy but also easily destroyed in case one half is taken by an invading army, as happened during the nurling wars (to this day Westbank is still referred to as ‘Goblintown’ by Eastbankers). The stonework of these bridges, as well as the walls themselves, have all been constructed by the best civil engineers the Guilds can produce, and are therefore considered among the most imposing battlements in the west. The streets are designed to wind and a turn, making it difficult for an attacking force to advance, and every ten houses in both halves of the city are made of fortified stone. These houses are built at strategic points throughout the city’s design and could be used as a guard post or small keep in times of trouble. These houses, known as ‘keystones,’ are quite large and are usually owned by wealthy merchants, guild members, or occasionally are used as official buildings like hospitals, libraries, courthouses, temples, or schools. Most impressive among Galaspin’s defenses, however, is the Duke’s keep, known as the Stonewatch. Built on a stone promontory jutting out from the center of the Trell itself, the Stonewatch is a relatively small but intensely vertical fortress of stone battlements and grim turrets. Perhaps only 100 yards across at its base, the keep reaches 650 feet into the sky, towering over the rest of the city. Connected by only a small dock to receive riverboats, the Stonewatch rests a full 300 yards from either bank of the river and is considered un-assailable by most military commanders—a fact the nurlings discovered to their intense dismay during the Wars of the Goblin King.
Beyond its defensible nature, Galaspin has much more to offer a casual visitor. Though many complain about how crowded the city can get within its imposing walls, the bright side of this is that there is always something happening in Galaspin. Westbank is a constant bustle of traffic either from the river or the two highways that meet here. Fighting halls hold exhibitions all night, the taverns never close, and it is said that the brothels of Galaspin have no equal. This is truly a traveler’s town, and most of the people here are only passing through. Across the river in Eastbank is one of the few places in the world where people can witness Thostering mercenaries patrolling the streets in force and the guild halls are among the best places in the world for a mercenary to find work. Every morning, scores of sellswords cross the river to peruse the posting boards outside of all the major guildhalls as well as a few permanent kiosks where wealthy members of Galaspin society seek to hire adventurous men and women for various purposes. Those who can’t read are advised to hire a scribe once over the river for the low cost of 1 Mark a day (or 3m for one who tells the truth).
All those who travel to Galaspin should plan to have money on-hand. Taxes and surcharges are everywhere for the foreign visitor—charges to enter the gates, charges to travel the river, charges to cross the bridges, charges to wear a weapon, and so on and so forth. The Ducal Guard is quite efficient at exacting these taxes, and those who refuse to pay are usually ejected from the city and not re-admitted. Of course, even if one does manage to pay all the official charges, the cost of things in Westbank like lodging and food is often exorbitant when compared to cities like Akral or even Saldor. Finally, there is the local Thieves’ Guild, the Whisperers, to deal with. Known for having some of the most skilled pick-pockets in the world, the Whisperers exact a tax of their own on most travelers coming to Galaspin and make sure to pay right tribute to the Duke for the privilege. In the end, many foreigners are content to leave Galaspin as soon as they can, thinking it a den of thieves and corruption, but to the natives it is a city of plenty and the safest place for thousands of miles. They are both right.
Culture and People
If there is one trait that has come to define Galaspiners over the years, it is tenacity. Attributed to their mountain folk heritage, Galaspiners are never ones to give up, even if something seems impossible. They are incurable optimists and plucky souls, constantly challenging the accepted limits of what ‘can’ and ‘should’ be done. To a Galaspiner, the only thing between you and an impossible task is the conception that it is impossible. In this way, Galaspiners can be both encouraging and annoying to others, who really don’t want to hear about how if they ‘put their heads together’ they can defeat that encroaching arahk band with a pair of shovels and a bedroll.
The people of Galaspin believe very strongly in the idea of the ‘team-player.’ Intensely competitive, Galaspiners recognize the need to stay on top of the competition and, in their view, the best way to do that is to get together with your friends and family and work together to overcome obstacles. In a way, the whole of Galaspin politics is a version of this tactic. The Duke runs the show by recruiting the best and brightest to levy his taxes and police his borders. The Guild Lords do much the same thing, only in competition with the Duke—looking out for their own, keeping the Duke out of their business, and so on. Each side works together to keep the upper hand over the other side, and in this way the whole thing stays fairly balanced. Galaspiners are game players and competitors, not conquerors. Though the Guilds might conspire to have a knight discredited or even killed, they rarely act towards the knight with rancor—he’s just doing his job, and they’re just doing theirs. While this may seem cold-blooded, Galaspiners just think of it as the way the world works. If he didn’t want to accept the risks of being a knight, then he shouldn’t have gotten into the whole knighthood racket in the first place.
This competitive aspect to Galaspiner society works on every level. Every village is a web of inter-village rivalries—who is the best baker, who is the strongest man, who is the best mother, etc., etc.. Village and even regional competitions are common, and most people throw themselves into them with gusto. By competing to the best of their ability, Galaspiners see themselves as not only improving their skills but also showing respect for one’s opponents whom, again, the Galaspiner does not see as an enemy, but rather a fellow competitor in the great game of life. Everybody remember that, even though you may have lost the smithing competition today, tomorrow you may be asked to stand next to your rival and protect the village from marauders and the day after that you might need to work with the marauders to stave off a nurling invasion. Every Galaspiner has multiple levels of allegiance—first to the family, then to the village, then to the guild or Duke, and then to humanity in general. Competition is fine, but when trouble comes knocking, Galaspiners are the first to cast aside petty disputes and attack the new problem head on as a unified whole.
The end result of all this guild competition is that Galaspin produces some of the finest manufactured goods in all of the world. While Akrallian woodwork might be more fashionable or even more beautiful, a piece of Galaspin furniture will last you a lifetime and never break, warp, or rot. Galaspin blades are the finest in the West, Galaspin artists are the most acclaimed, and Galaspin stonemasons are sought after by all the noble houses of the Alliance. While the things they make may not be as flashy or expensive as those made in other places, anything bearing the stamp of a Galaspin guild is sure to be of the highest quality. By that same token, Galaspin mercenaries and bodyguards are regarded as some of the best to be had anywhere. Their intense natures and never-say-die attitude as well as their willingness to work in a team means that they are both effective and professional soldiers. Finally, Galaspiner diplomats and traders are known for their terrier-like fortitude when negotiating either treaties or prices and, while not necessarily as shrewd their Illinian or Ihynish counterparts, are well known and respected by their peers worldwide.
In their private lives, Galaspiners are usually jovial and outgoing, always trying to organize some kind of contest, wager, or game. Great lovers of tests of skill in all arenas, Galaspin is known for the popularity of its physical sporting events (like ring fighting or spirited contact sports like charger or baffle-ball) and games of intellect (magestones, sel’narn, bastions, etc.). Honor in contest is stressed in all these situations, and most Galaspiners are both gracious in victory and dignified in defeat. “You can judge a loser by the color of his face” is a common saying in this nation, where it is considered bad form to hold grudges against someone who beat you fair-and-square. Cheating is the ultimate sin in Galaspin, and anyone who would think to accuse someone of this vile act had best be prepared to duel to the death. Also taboo is giving up—to forfeit a contest is the ultimate sign of weakness and cowardice here, and anyone who does so endangers losing the respect of everyone he or she knows. In the end, the only way to repair such damage is to cheer up, get your act together, and come out swinging next time even if there is no way you can win.
Finally, another prominent facet of Galaspin society, though hardly exclusive to this realm, is the duel. Though, in a perfect world, Galaspin would be a land or good-natured competition and rivalry without rancor, exceptions are not uncommon. Many a heated game of charger has ended with one team or the other feeling as though their honor was insulted or, worse, they were cheated out of victory. Though laws do exist to police such incidents, it is far more likely that the matter will be settled by dueling. Though cheating necessitates a duel to the death, most duels are simply fought until one party can no longer stand. Dueling may be done with any weapons (or even magic) that the two parties agree upon, and, should one of the parties die during the fight, the winner is expected to pay the loser’s funeral expenses. Furthermore, it is technically required that an officer of the Duke be on hand to officiate, though in practice this is just so the officer can demand right tribute on the Duke’s behalf. This is accepted as both an attempt to discourage the duel and an aspect of the great game the Duke and his citizens play every day.
Galaspin was hit hard by the Illini Wars. Arguably nowhere besides Illin suffered so much as a result of the war that rocked the west a little over a quarter century ago. When Illin and Rhond were attacked by the Kalsaari Empire, the Duke of Galaspin was the first to offer his support. No levy was issued – when news spread of their ally under attack, Galaspiners young and old flocked to their local barons, volunteering for service in the army. Galaspiner mercenary companies also set sail across the Syrin to fight for the Alliance (and earn some coin in the process). Galaspiner infantry was of crucial importance in every major engagement in Illin, from the defense of the Dreaming City itself, to the pivotal Charge of Atrisia. Conrad Varner, High General of the West, said of his Galaspiner regiments: I’ll take one Galaspin footman walking in worn boots over any five Eretherian gentlemen in pretty saddles on any day of the week. He meant it – when Varner went to battle, he went on foot among the Galaspiners who bled for him. No Galaspiner has ever forgotten this. To speak ill of “The General” (as Varner is known) in this land is to find oneself in a fight before you finish your sentence.
There is a reason for their reverence that goes beyond Illin and Rhond. Whilst the flower of Galaspin youth and the balance of its military might fought for the Alliance across the sea, the Mad Prince Banric Sahand of Dellor invaded Galaspin from the north. He sacked towns. He put men to the sword. He burned villages. The whole of the Duchy fell beneath his merciless bootheel; he managed to claim the Stonewatch by treachery, and held the old Duke’s children and grandchildren hostage. He threatened the Galaspin bannermen that, should any of them set foot in their home country again, he would strap Duke Umbar I’s infanty granddaughter, Maya, to a trebuchet and “see how far she sails.” For this reason, even after the end of the war in Illin, most of Galaspin’s soldiers could find no one willing to return to lead them in their fight against Sahand.
No one but Varner.
Varner’s reconquest of Galaspin was somehow bloodier than all his fighting in Rhond or Illin, though it was briefer. In a campaign that raged throughout an uncharacteristically harsh winter, Varner at last routed Sahand at the Siege of Calassa. After his victory, it is said that he offered his neck to old Duke Umbar I, on account that his granddaughter had been killed by Sahand just as he had promised. Umbar spared him, but asked that Varner leave his country, never to return. So he did – returning to the North to assist his brother, King of Benethor – but no one in Galaspin has forgotten what he did for them.
Today, Galaspin is the industrial engine behind Saldor’s sorcerous renaissance. Galaspiner artisans and sorcerers labor to invent and create the new sorcerous materials that drive much of the Western economy. The Spirit Engine network has one of it’s major hubs in Galaspin, and Galaspiner guild members travel across the continent, sharing knowledge and expanding the wealth and modernization of the West. It is still, however, a nation scarred by war, though those scars are fading. Few, however, will forget the courage and loyalty of its armies – the Terriers of the West, who very probably saved the Western world from destruction.
Posted on May 9, 2014, in Alandar and tagged Alandar, fantasy, fiction, The Oldest Trick, world building. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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