Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eyes in the Woods: Foresthome



 
It is perhaps the largest realm of Alphatia.  One might think it a single block of similar people, but that would be incorrect.  Although under the authority of Queen Aberria, Foresthome's eighteen provinces form an association of woodland beings concerned with protecting their natural habitat—at least initially.  Being subjects of a monarchy residing more than 500 miles away for some, stems more from a need to pool the resources of many than from natural loyalty to a single leader.

Over the centuries, royal authority of Queen Aberria’s dynasty came to be recognized and respected, however it still remains subject to an oath to protect the realm’s old ways—the well-being of the forests and the relative autonomy of their inhabitants.  The original concern found its roots amid successive waves of incursions, mostly from humans or certain demi-humans who proved even more destructive—dwarves, orcs, goblins, ogres, and other humanoid races.  Alphatians did not fare better in the view of Foresthome citizens, clear-cutting entire forests in the remainder of the island-continent in order to fuel economic development.  Clashes were frequent and bloody for all involved.

Relative peace flourished when clans overcame their distrust of each other and chose a common leader who founded the current royal dynasty.  With its means combined, Foresthome imposed a bargain upon the Imperial House of Thera, accepting allegiance to Vertiloch but in return receiving a guarantee that the Forest Realm would be accepted and honored as a sovereign nation. . . in the person of its monarch.  It is a very fine distinction in the eyes of both Vertiloch and the people of Foresthome.  Townsfolk inevitably link royal power with safety, order, and wealth.  Seen from the forests, the matter isn’t quite so clear.

Since the realm’s foundation, conflicts subsided before stability and prosperity prevailed.  Royal Laws severely limit the cutting of trees and the encroachment of population in wooded areas to protect all involved.  It is a fragile arrangement.  Although woodland population remains balanced and in proportion with forested expanses, human—or in a more general sense, urban—population keeps growing.  Ever increasing demand for space and resources challenges the very basis of monarchy.  The greatest concentration of population, urban and farming, naturally occurs along the coasts (the Sea of Esterhold and Lake Llyn), but also along main travel paths (the East-Follow River, the Rathmore Trail, and to a lesser degree the Wessith Trail to Haggleby and Stonerim).  Therein lies the seed of Foresthome’s possible demise.


 
More recently, Foresthome’s delicate ecological and political balance have been further challenged with the incursion of Bettellyn missionaries.  The cult of Elarion in particular began spreading among forest folk.  Its followers question the royal status quo and compare it to the benefits of a religion that may more solidly tie the clans together and bring them divine protection.  Some even think the cult should earn them added status and sympathy from their southern neighbor.  Although Bettellyn’s arrogant, bellicose ways are very much disliked (and feared), there remains nonetheless a certain envy of the strength and authority, and therefore respect, that their apparent unity commands.  Faith is a powerful medicine.

Alas, the philosophical movement is a direct threat to the monarchy and the existence of the realm as such.  Although the cult of Elarion slowly succeeds among forest folk, it has failed entirely to attract support from farming communities and, more importantly, urban centers.  From a demographic point of view, the latter two far outnumber the former despite Queen Aberria’s hard work to try to balance out everything.  Over the years, tension has grown between forest folk and outsiders, mirror-imaging the chasm separating Foresthome’s monarchy and Bettellyn.  The cult of Elarion has not grown from a void.  Tradition has always lead forest folk to be tolerant of each other's beliefs.  It explains to some degree the relative success of Elarion missionary work.  More recently though, older faiths have begun pushing back, leading to frictions among clans. Druidical influence is becoming not only more tangible, but downright brutal in some cases.  At odds are tenets of Elarion's faith firmly entrenched amid the hierarchy of Bettellyn's Pantheon of Archons, and druidical beliefs that spirits of the land may one day reclaim their vast realm, grinding into dirt the injuries and insults embodied by the outsiders' cities.     

In the face of so much uncertainty, the military at least remains loyal to the queen, due to her thoughtful strategy of appointing reliable and experienced commanders to control her disparate armed forces.  As a result of Foresthome’s vastness and its endless borders, the Queen’s Army is spread out.  Some of it concentrates along the southern border, but few of its commanders really believe those defenses would stop a determined Bettellyn assault.  It is thought that Foresthome could perhaps hang on to its woods, if forest folk remained loyal, but coastal lands would probably fall in short order.  All eyes converge toward the queen and her ability to avert the worst.


 
So far, relations with Ar have been very good and fruitful.  There had been clashes in centuries past as Alphatians there started expanding southward, but borders settled and, so far, Ar’s wizardly aristocrats have demonstrated no desire to push further.  Instead, they’ve become bent on increasing their real-estate holdings “upward” with the creation of floating islands.  From a woodsy point of view, when the elite of Ar and Ambur keep their patrician noses firmly aimed at clouds and stars, sylvan matters escape their notice altogether.  “Let us not distract them!” is the prevailing wisdom.  Yet, there has been discreet evidence of late that Ar and its immediate neighbor, Ambur, are growing concerned with Bettellyn's proselytism, and that in this respect, they support the efforts of Foresthome's monarchy to keep it at bay.

Trade with Ar has been reasonably good down the Esterhold Coast and the Roaring River.  On the far western border lie Imperial Territories, a constant source of trouble with monster incursions.  Imperial law forbids anyone from trespassing, making it impossible to put an end to raids across the Snake River.  A good portion of Foresthome’s troops remains therefore occupied with patrolling the eastern riverbank and intercepting raiders.  These forays have become bolder and more frequent in the past decade.  Some meager trade filters in from Frisland, across from Lake Shiell, transiting through the remote Barony of Shielldon.  Frisland has remained entirely neutral and unconcerned with Foresthome.

Farther west lies the Realm of Blackheart, which has always kept to itself.  The two nations share a very short segment of borders near Shiell Lake, which has been closed for as long as Alphatian occupied that region.  The state showing the greatest sympathy toward the Forest Realm is the Shiye Lawr.  The elves politically support Queen Aberria as regards her standing before Vertiloch, since they share a common cause.  Alas, Imperial Territories prevent meaningful economic or military cooperation between the two realms.  Both Foresthome and the Shiye Lawr detest the existence of these forbidden territories, and have been arguing vehemently with Empress Eriadna about the need to permit at least passage between the two realms.  The imperial answer, cryptic and ominous, has always alluded to certain things lying there that would be best left undisturbed.

Another supporter, by force of things, has been Randel.  Not that they particularly like each other (in its demeanor, Randel looks very much like Bettellyn), Foresthome’s monarchy shares with Randel a common and more pressing concern—Bettellyn.  Both have indirectly alluded to a tacit agreement to attack Bettellyn if the latter mounts a serious invasion into the other’s realm.  Randel’s military circles are exceedingly pleased with the situation, almost wishing for such an aggression to put it to the test.  On the other hand, Foresthome’s commanders view the agreement with mounting anxiety.  They hope the agreement merely stands as a way to dissuade Bettellyn from any rash behavior, without ever having to actually execute it.  Whether the agreement is substantial remains to be proven.

Following the diplomatic alignment, Eadrin and therefore Theranderol and Arogansa tend to support Bettellyn essentially as a counterweight to Randel, and maintain relatively frosty relations with Foresthome.  Empress Eriadna is well aware of these diplomatic tensions.  She tries to arbitrate disputes where possible and, failing that mission, enforces imperial authority.  It is a delicate balance because imperial power relies on the loyalty of its realms—and of course, peace and prosperity among all.  Without them, there can be no empire.

Click HERE to view or download Foresthome’s main map.


Click HERE for the next chapter.