Sunday, November 25, 2012

Foresthome: The Barony of Shielldon

Continued from the previous section.  Click HERE to go back.

Mystara Alphatia Foresthome Shielldon map
Barony of Shielldon, map scale: 8 miles per hex

When Westford was elevated to the status of Duchy Palatinate, its duke took the opportunity to put in place a barony in its far northwestern possessions.  There were several reasons for the decision, the first being the existence of dominant clans of Hsiao rather than centaurkind.  Its main town, more than 200 miles from Haggleby, controlled a heavily-wooded region connecting with the remainder of the duchy through a vulnerable 20-mile-wide bottleneck along the Snake River.  Furthermore, with its location at the doorsteps of two foreign realms, Frisland and Blackheart—neither being genuinely friendly—Shielldon required strong local leadership that would be able to better focus on the area’s challenges and implement the duke’s authority.  The Hsiao agreed, and a cousin of the duke earned the title, duties, and responsibilities of baron.

This didn’t quite address all the duke’s concerns.  Although generally good natured, Hsiao (pronounced sh’HOW) aren’t the easiest creatures to govern.  Part of the problem is that missionaries of Elarion have done well among them, and as a result have become more able to influence their followers.  A cult of archons, avian-like Lawful immortals of whom one advocates woodland beings, has been very appealing to Hsiao.  In general, northern clans of Foresthome (including the fey-in-the-summer, phanatons, flitterlings, and sasquatches) have become somewhat partial to the Elarion aspect of Bettellyn’s philosophy.  Southern dominions have fared differently in this regard since they resent Bettellyn’s pressure and have fought against their neighbor on multiple occasions.  Consequently, southerners distrust anything from Bettellyn, especially undercover preachers.  When not disembarking at Orfil or Soctel, missionaries slip into the northern country from Frisland and Ar into Grünfold and Shielldon
respectively.  Meanwhile, Alphatian aristocracy grit their teeth at what they see as blatant sedition.

The duke recently warned the baron to be on the lookout for anyone crossing the Snake River.  Historically, invasions occurred farther south in the duchy, across the banks stretching from Trefoils-on-the-Snake to Withywomble.  The small territory tucked between the Ogresfell, Lake Shiell, and Blackheart was, thankfully, spared the worst of the conflicts that devastated the south.  The duke’s concern isn’t the occasional monstrous foray into Shielldon.  Clearly, the baron and Hsiao can handle them.  The real issue is the illicit entry of humans, without a doubt renegades up to no good, crossing the river into the duchy or the barony.  These individuals quickly head eastward into the nearby hills, often skirting the border between the two dominions.  Although royal rangers have been on the lookout for them, the intruders have proven very skillful at avoiding ambushes and covering their tracks.  They are suspected of being druids.  Unfortunately, the baron was unable to resolve the situation, being far too involved hunting down Elarion missionaries.  The question the duke and the baron have been debating focuses on why druids would want to breach imperial law by dwelling in forbidden lands, and even more troubling, why they would risk being caught crossing back and forth.  The two aristocrats would pay dearly for any information on what lies at either end of the mysterious druids’ journeys.

What the baron effectively controls is a narrow fringe from the lighthouse to Brackenreach Tower.  Wooded areas stretching down to the level of Brackenreach are home to the Hsiao, a race of giant owl-like know-it-alls.  These creatures form closed circles of philosophers, writers, historians, sages, and theologians of immortal affairs.  They do not share their knowledge easily, and if they do, they make sure that it is not repeated elsewhere.  Although they rely on clerical magic, Hsiao have the means to ensure the loyalty and discretion of those with whom they share their wisdom.  For reasons of their own, they profoundly dislike native Frislanders, a feeling that dates back to an ancient era.  The Mumbling Woods earned their name from very old treants living in the area.  These ancient beings have grown so old that they’ve become dormant, muttering softly and almost continually in their ageless slumber.  Hsiao have grown accustomed to the soothing, dreamy mumbles, which helps them meditate.  Outsiders suspect the forest’s avian folk understand the treants’ whispery, muddled speak, possibly revealing of deep sylvan secrets.  It is believed that something the forest’s soil helps the treants survive longer than others do elsewhere in Foresthome.

North of their roosting domain lie the Heartsbane Woods.  Over the centuries, horrors from the depths beneath Stoneridge Crags have claimed these parts.  Hsiao watch them carefully, ensuring none of those unwanted denizens ever threaten the sleeping treants.  Along Shielldon’s coast, however, live clans of nixies and other water fairies.  They flocked to this side of Shiell Lake and the narrows at Sturgeon Bay when the area became a part of Foresthome.  They dislike Frisland and unwelcoming Blackheart even more.  Nixies are part of the reason why few unkind souls cross into the barony, down to and including Brackenreach.  Royal rangers represent them at the Clan House in Sturgeon Bay, the barony’s main town.  Much of the outsiders’ food comes from fishing, which the nixies don’t mind since they’ve learned a long time ago to avoid fishing nets.  They sometimes play among the oars of merchant ships.  Tales abound of doomed crews able to reach the shore when their ships sank during a storm, thanks to well-intentioned nixies.  In exchange for their help, some of the better-looking sailors vanished, pursuing their existence below the surface as mates of the water sprites.  Those never return to the outside world.

The Company of Haggleby maintains an important trading house in Sturgeon Bay.  All of its vessels stop there before heading out onto the lake or down the Snake River.  This merchant guild has been an important factor in attracting population to the town, and generating income for the baron.  The shores of Blackheart remain absolutely off limits, but the ports of Frisland have be a boon for the merchants as a source of merchandise generally unavailable in western Foresthome, and a market for all things relating to horses, including equine medicine, centaurkind literature, leather gear, helmets with horsehair crests, woodcarvings, etc.

To be continued.

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