Alandar: The County of Ihyn
The smallest of the nations of the Alliance, the County of Ihyn rests upon the Isle of Brasori at the center of the Sea of Syrin. A nation of sailors and merchants, Ihyn has a reputation for being a theif’s paradise, where respect for the law and moral behavior take a back seat to greed, lust, and gluttony. Universally mistrusted by the other nations of the Alliance, Ihyn has a reputation for switching sides with reckless abandon during any conflict, always sailing where the wind is fairest. Still, the mercantile skills and shrewd business dealings of the Ihynish have earned them grudging respect from their fellow Alliance members, rating them just one step above the Verisi in diplomatic esteem. Wealthy, decadent, and treacherous, Ihyn has been a haven for those who dislike playing by the rules and like to live by their wits. Proceed along its docks and canals with caution.
Officially, the political structure of Ihyn is among the simplest in the Alliance. Being a small nation with very little actual territory, the Count of Ihyn is supreme ruler of all lands, people, and waters surrounding the Isle of Brasori. There are no knights beneath him, no viscounts to dispute his edicts, no council of advisors to temper his moods—the Count is in complete control. Beneath him are a series of civic posts — constables, judges, tax collectors, etc. — and the military, which consists of a very small force of county guards and an enormous navy. The title of Count is hereditary, passing to the eldest child of the Count upon his death or premature retirement. Should no heir be apparent, one is named by the Count prior to his death. It is a simple, elegant, and efficient system for a small territory.
Unfortunately, Ihyn hasn’t functioned in this way ever since the Akrallian Wars led to the assassination of Count Otho Boorth — the last of the strong Counts of Ihyn. Since that time, the Counts have been little more than puppets for one faction or another within the city of Ihyn itself, being consistently bribed to look the other way or simply assassinated when they proved intractable. The most powerful of these factions (and the one that currently holds the Count’s leash) is the Thieves’ Guild, also known as the Smiling Barbers or simply ‘Barbs’ by those in the know. The Barbs, through the Count, control almost every aspect of city life in Ihyn, from the docks to the palace and back again. Their only competition comes from several wealthy merchant families that make their homes on the island. Controlling the balance of the nation’s merchant fleet, these families (also known as ‘cartels’) run both the countryside they live in and regulate the flow of money that moves into and out of the city itself. In an almost constant state of silent war with the Barbs, these families maintain fortified estates and private armies to keep themselves safe from the famed ‘Smiler’s Mark’ — a bloody smile in the form of an ear-to-ear throat slash that is a Barb assassin’s trademark.
Corruption is rampant in every level of Ihynish politics, and anyone with a large purse will find it very easy to do whatever they want on the island, making it similar to Freegate, only more criminal (if that is possible). Crime has become so commonplace that the Count has had to assign parties to dredge the harbor for bodies every morning. Once, centuries ago, Ihyn attracted a large number of Eretherians, Saldorians, and Akrallians who would vacation on the scenic island, but the clientele has changed significantly since then, thanks in large part to the failure on the part of the Counts to do anything about the thieves, criminals, and plutocrats who run everything.
If one has money in Ihyn, one can find life here to be highly agreeable — a large bank account is equivalent to a knighthood here — but the poor are downtrodden and oppressed, forced to pay extortion money to keep their businesses open are terrified for their very lives should the Barbs take particular notice of them. It is interesting to note that Ihyn is the only place in the Alliance where slaves are sold openly at market and where slave ownership, though technically illegal, is commonplace.
Land and Points of Interest
The Isle of Brasori is eighty miles from north to south, and only about twenty miles wide at its widest point. The terrain is rocky and thickly wooded, with the only indigenous crops being grapes, pears, and oranges. Most of the population lives along the island’s long, rocky coastline, where there are plenty of deep inlets and harbors to allow sizable fishing fleets to come and go. Fish is the staple food of all Ihynish, with the only other meat readily available for consumption originating from the flocks of goats that are herded inland along the stony ridges of Brasori’s low, central mountain range.
The climate of Ihyn is mild and warm, with moderate rainfall occurring all year long. Every fall and winter the island is battered by a series of tropical storms that brew in the east near the Needle and rage westwards, with one or two hurricanes being among them. These storms, though rare, cause enormous damage to coastal settlements from which it sometimes takes years to fully recover. By and large, however, the weather on Ihyn is warm, peaceful, and nurturing — a paradise of palm trees and crystal-clear water.
Of particular interest in Ihyn, on both Brasori itself and the several smaller islands over which Ihyn practices eminent domain, are the rumors and legends of ancient ruins dating back to the time of Rahdnost the Undying, greatest of the Warlock Kings. It is a commonly held belief that Ghola — the unholy capital of that dark monarch — once stood upon an island or group of islands somewhere in the vicinity of Ihyn. This has been backed up somewhat by a degree of archaeological evidence. Goatherds often find the ruined pieces of pillars or the foundations of long-razed buildings in the steep hills of Brasori, while larger, more intact ruins stand on other islands. The Barbs and the merchant families, for their part, have very little interest in these ruins, knowing full well that they have long since been picked over by centuries of treasure hunters and thieves. That does not, however, stop them from selling ‘secret maps’ and having special ‘guides’ in their employ that will relieve the gullible treasure hunter of their gold by leading them on a merry gnome hunt through the scenic Ihynish isles.
The City of Ihyn: The city of Ihyn has been referred to as ‘the floating city’, and rightly so. Wedged up against the steep hillsides of inland Brasori, only about one third of the city’s population of 240,000 actually live on dry land. The city is constantly expanding as more and more people seek to feed off the river of wealth flowing through the heart of this thief’s paradise, and, as a result, it is among the most confusing and crowded places west of the Dragonspine.
The city is loosely divided into three sections. The first, known as the Old City, dates from the founding of the city, some 150 years after the fall of the Warlock Kings. Surrounded by a crumbling and mostly overgrown wall, the Old City is the only portion of Ihyn still located on land. Home to the Duke’s own fortress — known as the Crag — the Old City is primarily occupied by the wealthiest members of Ihynish society as well as the most upscale gaming houses, brothels, and hotels. Each home in the Old City is a fortress unto itself, complete with walls and private guards (this is, after all, a city of thieves), but none are so large as the Crag itself. A great, hulking, crumbling carcass of a castle, the Crag is five times larger than even the largest of the homes in the Old City. Built by the original founder of Ihyn — a pirate king called Rovanni — the Crag sits on the edge of what would be the harbor, were it not now filled in by the rest of the city. Added to and added to and added to over the centuries, it is unlikely anyone living knows all the ins and outs of the massive fortress, and most of it remains uninhabited to this day. It has never been attacked save once by the Akrallian fleet some 1200 years ago, and it seems unlikely it shall ever be attacked again. It shall succumb, instead, to the steady march of time and the lapping of the ocean — a fitting rotten center to a rotten city.
Beyond the Old City is the New City — a network of docks and wharfs that extend outwards from the Old City into the enormous Ihynish harbor. Magically reinforced to remain stable and sturdy enough to hold entire city blocks of buildings and people even in high seas, winds, and waves, the New City is where most of Ihyn lives, works, and plays. The waters in the many canals are deep enough to accommodate all but the largest of ships, who, therefore, have the unique privilege of pulling right up to the warehouse or shop into which their cargo is to be unloaded. Marketplaces can sell their goods directly to sailors on passing vessels, fishermen can walk out their front door to find their skiffs waiting, and thieves find it easy to leap from a rooftop to a passing mast and make their way into the hold for some prime looting. A crowded place, the ‘streets’ are constantly teeming with merchants, travelers, constables, pick-pockets, performers, and more. Beneath the baffling network of docks also exists a labyrinth of pilings and moorings known as the Underbelly — it is here that Barb agents can move silently and without notice to almost anywhere in the New City, and many a hapless victim has found his last trip to be in a small boat in the ever-present darkness of this foul, stinking place.
Finally, stretching out from the edges of the New City like a teeming swarm of parasites is Flotsam — a chain of small boats, barges, and rafts that comprise a makeshift neighborhood of poor workers, orphans, refugees, and black marketers. Constantly shifting with every ebb and flow of the tide, it is very difficult for the uninitiated to make their way through Flotsam without falling into the water, getting lost, or being stabbed in the back. Universally avoided by all but the bravest or most desperate, Flotsam is the seedy underbelly to an already seedy city, and it is unlikely visitors will see poverty this abject anywhere in Alandar save in the slums of Kalsaari cities. Flotsam is destroyed on average once a year, when the first major storm of the season rips through the shoddily constructed boats and tears apart the flimsy supports and lines holding them in place. Hundreds die in this kind of catastrophe and, though something ought to be done to prevent such things in the future, neither the Count nor his superiors show any interest in helping.
Culture and People
Say the word ‘Ihynish’ to the average Westerner and a few things come to mind: liar, cheater, thief, and merchant. While this assessment of the people of Ihyn is not entirely accurate, it is also by no means a baseless accusation. Many of the Ihynish are morally bankrupt individuals with poor reputations and less-than-pure intentions but certainly not all of the nation’s people deserve such a stigma. On the whole, the Ihynish people are both clever and adaptable, willing to roll with the punches in order to come out on top later on.
The population of Ihyn can be effectively separated into two cultural subgroups, the first being those who live in the city of Ihyn itself and the second being those who live without. City-dwellers are easily identified by their street savvy lingo, their quick wits, and their familiarity with the extensive Ihynish underworld. By contrast, those who live outside of Ihyn are provincial herders and fisherman, accustomed to the roll of the waves and a day of hard work, but not well acclimated to the dangers of city life. The Ihynishman of common myth is largely the Ihynishman of the city, whereas the rural Ihynish fail to resemble their urban cousins in almost every way.
Rural Ihynish consider the city the den of iniquity and unrighteousness that it is, and seek to avoid going there as much as possible. In the fishing villages and orchard towns of Brasori, the Hannite faith has a strong hold, and the excesses and sinful acts of the urbanites are viewed with unadulterated religious scorn and, in many cases, fear. The crops and catches of the rural Ihynish are brought to market in Ihyn, but are usually sold to peddlers and grocers that wait without the gates of the city proper or direct from the boat to the docks of the New City with nary a rural toe being placed within the confines of the wicked capital.
Urbanites, for their part, reciprocate their rural cousins’ prejudice with enthusiasm. To them, rurals are the worst kind of fools, suckers, and low-grade ignorami. Though Hannite temples exist in the Old City, very few urban Ihynish give the religion more than a second thought and almost none have anything polite to say about its superstitions and moral conscience. While the rurals will never be anything but fishermen, the urban Ihynish see themselves as constantly trying to ‘make it’ in the world. The draw of the city, despite its poverty, violence, and corruption, is that the only thing keeping an Ihynishman from the good life is a few years of hard work, quick thinking, and ruthless determination. Ihyn is a place of opportunity and wealth, whereas there will never be anything in the country but hard work, poverty, and boring routine.
For all their disdain for one another, however, the urban and rural communities are hardly exclusive peoples. Every year rurals come from the countryside to the city, seeking their fortune, and every year urbanites who have had it with the backstabbing world of the city seek to retire to a simple life in the country. As much as both groups hate to admit it, the populations are fairly fluid and all Ihynish, urban or otherwise, share the same cultural heritage. The Ihynish are a people who value their wits above all other things. Ihynish folklore is filled with tales of the small, intelligent man beating the powerful, dull man through tricks, cunning, and outright lies. To an Ihynishman, one is only as good as one’s mind, with stupidity being equated with evil as much as anything else. If you got yourself conned, tricked, or stumped by someone that means you probably deserved it and should take it as a lesson for being a dunce. Honesty is not valued by Ihynish society as much as it is in other places, and even the rural Ihynish, with their reputation as being simple, are sly and devious in their dealings with their neighbors. Practical in their way, the Ihynish see no reason to remain loyal to someone who isn’t doing them any good or to tell the truth to someone who means them harm and, while this trickery isn’t always for the purpose of harming others, it is universally designed to benefit oneself. Not all Ihynish are thieves and killers, but almost all of them are slippery and cunning, whether it is in the field of fishing or of swordplay.
The overriding motive behind all of this trickery and double-dealing is, in the end, survival. Ihyn is a very small place, and there are a lot of people who are trying to make a living here. If everybody went around telling the truth and playing fair, nobody would be living comfortably. As it stands, only the select and lucky few do live a life of luxury in Ihyn, but rather than be bitter, most Ihynish admire these sorts for their resourcefulness and agile minds (though it is doubtful they would hesitate for an instant if they could pull one of them down to allow themselves to rise up.). Ihynish cultural beliefs do not allow for one to blame another for one’s own lack of success—it’s their own damn fault for being a sucker, and that’s all. What is expected of the loser in these situations is to find a way to get back at the one who tore you down by tearing he or she down in turn, and showing to one and all just how clever you really are. For a person with intelligence, luck, and determination, the sky is the limit in Ihyn just so long as little things like ‘morals’ don’t get in the way.
In many ways, life on Ihyn is much more harsh than it is in many other Alliance nations. Though, as a nation, Ihyn is exceptionally wealthy, its people are comparatively poor. The average person in Ihyn lives in a one-room hut or in a small boat with their entire family, and the vast majority of their diet consists of fish and goat’s milk with the occasional piece of fruit. Work is hard, extortion is rampant, crime is almost legal, and one must live by their wits or end up starving, dead, imprisoned, or worse. To pass the time, the Ihynish will tell one another riddles and brain-teasers as well as play at cards and dice. Gambling is something of a national pastime here, and gaming houses are almost as common in the countryside as they are in the city itself. Religious holidays are regularly observed in the country as well as in the city, though the urbanites have made the holidays more into excuses to act even more raucous and depraved than usual rather than recognizing their grander, religious purpose.
Economically speaking, Ihyn is a middle man for almost every good or ware transported across the Syrin, though it produces and sells very little of its own. It is known for its fish oils, used both for lubrication and for lighting lamps, and its alcoholic liqueurs made from the various fruits that are indigenous to the island. Almost the entire population is connected somehow to fishing, and the sea is the lifeblood of the country. Though Hannite by day, many are the rural fishing communities who hold secret ceremonies sacrificing live animals to Azhar in the hopes that she will grant them large catches in the coming weeks. A immoral practice to some, but to the Ihynish it is just another means to an end.
Ihyn provided logistical and economic support to the war effort during the Illini Wars, but only after the Kalsaaris refused to make a deal with them. This latter bit, while not public knowledge, is known by enough diplomats and statesmen in the West to guarantee that Ihyn enjoys very little esteem from its neighbors. The increase in access to sorcerous goods has been put to good use in Ihyn, as they have taken to revolutionizing their modest agriculture with a variety of sorcerous techniques. Now, Ihyn produces a fair amount of saleable goods – tabacco, hard liquors, wine, and so on. These goods, however, are basically copies of higher quality goods from other countries. Ihyn has flooded the market with, essentially, sorcerous clones and magical knock-offs of many, many things. This adds to the wealth of the Barbers and the cartels, but has done little to help the common citizen. For the average Ihynishman, their life thirty years ago and their life now remains basically the same – do what you have to in order to stay alive, and live by your wits.