Nations and Places
Section I: Nations
Section II: Places of Renown
The land enclosed by the Secula Mountains and the Orbé River has been called the Wild Coast since times immemorial, long before people ever really thought about the fact that this area stretches a goodly ways inland. The name has stuck – and not least of all has concerned some wonderment for people who hear about the vast Trebonshire Forest – and learn that it is part of the Wild Coast.
The reason for that, I suppose, is that few people ever went into this area, even when the Arrufat Peninsula was still a single realm, untroubled by the Tonomai across the Strait of Stevereev. Back then, more than five centuries ago, the Wild Coast was a thicket of woods, rocks, swamps, and cliffs – hardly worth the effort of trying to turn it into livable lands when there was so much more fertile ground in the rest of the peninsula.
Bandits ranged in the forests back then, also some bands of revolutionaries who sought to overthrow the King of Kings in Diram, and hid in Trebonshire Forest (ranging across half the Wild Coast in that day) to escape their overlord’s henchmen. Aside from them, there were a few pioneers, hardy fellows undaunted by the life of hardship they were about to endure. Most of those people were the youngest children of their families, those who would inherit too little land to lead any kind of satisfying lives. So they went to the Wild Coast, to try to wrest some space for themselves from the tight grip of the forest. If you look at today’s map (admittedly incomplete as it is), you will find quite a lot of places whose names remind one of fire; with endings like “burn” or “flame”. I’ve heard of several hamlets named Woodburn in the area (which probably causes a problem with orientation); one is even named Flameburn. I suppose the founders of this village really had no time to waste on finding a suitable name.
As it is, five hundred years ago, the Wild Coast was still an untamed region. Orcs ranged freely in the area, ratpeople infested more than a few patches of ground, and the cries of forest dragons were audible for many miles around.
Then the Unholy Assault (cf. Arrufat Peninsula) began, and suddenly the people of the peaceful part of the land were looking for a way out. Some took the arduous long road around the Secula Mountains, along the Victory River (today’s name, mind you) over to the land bridge towards Ibrollene. Others, cut off from that road by the rapid march of the Tonomai, trekked across the Orbé into the Wild Coast, seeking to reach the Great Pass through the Seculas.
Many tales are left from that time, and terrible they are. Those refugees had to fight their way through the tough land of the Wild Coast, through interminable forests, and when the woods gave way, they faced the Blackbog, a wide swamp area inhabited not only by swamp dragon – as if that weren’t enough – but also a kind of intelligent lizards who ferociously defend their realm. (Later articles will expand upon the Blackbog.)
There is a path that leads relatively securely to the Great Pass, but the lizards often patrol even those areas, and attacks are quite frequent. The refugees who tried to make their way through the Great Pass were, by all reports, steady targets of the lizards, and many died during their trek.
Still, the majority took this route, and historical accounts prove that several thousands made it to the safety of Ibrollene. (A large number of those later journeyed to the Blue Land, to carve a new life for themselves from the untouched region. It’s a bit odd when you think that they left behind the Wild Coast, which in many ways resembled these settlers’ new home. But then again, there were quite a few new experiences behind them in Ibrollene.)
Some did not take the risk on themselves. Reasonably they argued that the Tonomai would not follow them across the Orbé; after all, the realm of Arrufat had never done so. Furthermore they knew that there were defensive posts all across the Orbé, manned by tough warriors who would give their lives to secure the flight of the refugees. (As indeed they did – and many of those posts fell in the ensuing years. But to these refugees, they must have seemed impenetrable.)
They were scattered across the Wild Coast, in varied bands of refugees, as they settled down to forge their own lives. Burning the forest, building aqueducts, they created fertile farmland (over the course of generations). Most of the villages and towns in this area owe their existence to the refugees of the Unholy Assault.
Today there is little communication between the settlements. Oh, there is trade, but that amounts to a passing merchant every few months, nothing regular, so that the villagers generally know next to nothing about the world around them. They know the area up to a day or two’s journey by foot or horse, they have a good inkling of who their neighbors are, but beyond that?
Ask someone from the Wild Coast, and he probably doesn’t even know that the Tonomai have been driven out of the better part of the peninsula. In fact, he might not even know the name Arrufat, no matter that it is the very land he lives on.
Yes, in our day and age, when instant communication across many miles via magiscribe is a fact of life we find such seclusion hard to believe. But it is a true. Magiscribe hasn’t penetrated into the Wild Coast, except for a few odd Darawk temples or shrines whose priests have learned this blessing. For the most part the Darawk priests are ignorant about the idea of a magiscribe!
It is for that reason, I believe, that the people of the Wild Coast are always of two minds about strangers. For one thing, many of the travellers in this region are of a darker ilk, and a peaceful villager might have reason to fear them. But then, it is travellers who bear news, and the locals are as curious about the world as any other folks you know. It isn’t by choice, after all, that they are secluded.
And don’t believe that the Wild Coast is entirely uncivilized, please do not. There are in fact temples to our beloved deities, as well as schools for wizards. They may not have the amenities of our modern age, but they surely strive to improve their lot in life. Some of their cities have grown to respectable size, developed healthy – and rather more frequent – trade relations, some even outside the Wild Coast.
Of ocurse it is a long road these people have to travel, and until then the Wild Coast is still a rather dangerous and troublesome region.
The most notable geographical feature one ought to mention the Trebonshire Forest which used to cover the entire Wild Coast. The various settlements, many given up and moved to other places (or simply looted and destroyed) have cut swathes into it, disintegrating it into several smaller woods. What today bears the name is still a massive forest, replete with a large variety of plant and animal life, not least among them the clawvoles which are still very numerous in the area.
The Orbé River forms an outer boundary of the region, that is, mostly it does. Its source lies in the Secula Mountains from where it flows first through the Blackbog (the waters of which the river feeds). Here, the Blackbog composes the boundary, until the Orbé leaves its murky confines and runs its course clearly to Shane’s Sea.
At the very point where the Orbé leaves the Blackbog, there is a small city on the southern shore, by the name of Aliaza. Its inhabitants have found a bit of profitable business for themselves in this location for ships cannot travel any further upstream, prohibited as they are by the threat of the Blackbog, and therefore Aliaza has become a hub of trade in the area – the counterpart, if you will, of Freeport. The city has also found some importance as it provides one of the safest passages into the Wild Land – or out of it. If that might seem strange, considering the proximity of the lizards, you have to realize that Aliaza is in effect a well protected fortress that the lizards generally avoid.
Most other crossing points of the Orbé are less secured, and the land on the southern shore is rarely charted, whereas Aliaza is a reasonable starting point.
It should also be noted that on the northern shore of the river, right on the opposite side of Aliaza are the ancient, dark ruins of another city that had been razed during the Unholy Assault. Simply called the Old Town there are hundreds of legends about its destruction. Details vary, of course, but most tales recount that the Old Town had been the last fortress in the area to hold fast against the Tonomai assault. They were beleaguered, besieged. Food ran out, but just as the Tonomai were about to break through the Old Town’s walls, someone called a host of demons to destroy the attackers. They succeeded, but every tale agrees that the demons were uncontrollable and continued to devastate the entire city, including the survivors of the siege. Nobody from Aliaza ever sets foot into the Old Town, wary of the creatures that still might lurk there, even after five centuries.
Along the further course of the Orbé, there are a number of villages and cities, none of which are important enough to bear special mention. Any traveller will most surely find a plentitude of ruins, ancient fortresses that were wrecked during the Unholy Assault (and some of Tonomai build that fell to other forces).
At the end of the Orbé, when the mighty river flows into Shane’s Sea, there is the city that has gathered quite a reputation, more bad than good. Freeport is a large city that could rival with places like the Ibrollenian Niiz, with spires rising into the sky, wide, well maintained roads, towering buildings – the very sight of wealth at first. A second glance will reveal that the wealth comes from rather unpleasant sources, as Freeport is home to the worst mélange of scum, cutthroats, pirates, slavers, con-men you have ever seen. (As you can imagine, not every part of Freeport is wealthy. The city rulers have erected high walls around the poor quarters to close off sight of the filth.)
If you have any trade in the area – or one that is of dubious origins -, you will want to go to Freeport. Here you can sell anything, and you can buy next to anything. The city pays allegiance to nobody but their own ruler, the (self-styled) Commodore Decker. None but their own laws apply, which allow much that would be called a crime anywhere else. (They are very strict, murderously strict, when it comes to ensuring that no danger arises to the Commodore or any of the high merchants.)
Just a few miles north of Freeport is the border of the last Arrufatian province still held by the Tonomai, Aicnelav. For the past decades they have managed to fortify this province, defend it against the troops of the Reconquest. Freeport played a large part in this, for it has provided ample support in mercenary troops, weapons and food supplies – in payment for vast sums of money that the Commodore squeezed from the Tonomai. The Empire has notable sources of gold, and the defense of its final stronghold was important enough to the Emperor (not to mention the local governor) that he paid willingly for the quick support.
Freeport has also become the major point of exchange for goods from the Tonomai Empire; its proximity to Aicnelav makes it the ideal trading partner to deliver goods along the southern shores of Shane’s Sea. (That the Commodore doesn’t mind dealing with the Tonomai who are the declared enemies of Arrufat is also a positive aspect)
At the opposite end of the Wild Coast lies the strange realm of Rhelfin, about which rather little is known. Rhelfin consists of one major city, in a wide circle surrounded by a magically enhanced wall. The wall is more than thirty feet high, describes a perfect circle no matter what the landscape looks like. (Rumor has it that entire hills had been removed to make room for the wall.) None have ever entered the walls unless specifically invited – which rarely happens -, and most encounters with the people of Rhelfin have come at the end of crossbow bolts or blades of their soldiers (clerics, usually).
What is known about Rhelfin is that they are fervently religious, though their beliefs seem to seriously differ from ours. They appear to believe in a single god – not the Tonomai One God – and a variety of saints who serve this god. It is difficult to ascertain more as Rhelfinians are never encountered far from their home, and then they are generally part of patrols that cleanse a wide strip around their city from dangerous creatures like dragons, bandits (and also anyone who has no purpose being there, such as trade). An exception is made by the Rhelfinian traders who can be found as far away as Freeport; but they never discuss much of their home.
“In the olden days, the place was called Atpasom. The city was already an important trading port, what with its being the westernmost secured harbor on the peninsula. Locals were proud of their thriving trade, grew rich and fat on it, but they didn’t really care too much about protection. Look, they had the King of Kings in Diram, it was his job to make sure they don’t get attacked. So there was a fortress some two or three miles away, on the bank of the Orbé, pretty well stacked with good regiments; and in the harbor, there always were one or two galleons stationed.
“Y’know, if they had made use of Shelter Island, they probably wouldn’t have had that many problems. Only thought of it much too late.
“Oh, right, you’re not from around here. All right, the lay of the land hasn’t changed much since five hundred years ago. Would be a wee bit surprising if it had, right? So, you have the Orbé flowing into Shane’s Sea, and it forms the usual delta. Get up on one of them high towers, and you can see it clearly. Anyway, there’s an island right in the middle of the delta. I guess it used to be a mountain what’s been washed down by the river, but there’s a real big plateau there now, triangular, each side some three quarters of a mile long. Yes, right, that’s where Freeport’s now, the better parts, anyway. And that’s Shelter Island. For what’s been told in my family, it used to be called something like Sheep Island or Goat Isle or something way back when.
“Old Atpasom, it was built right around the banks of the river, with the harbor running along the shoreline. Old Mother Obré gets pretty deep here, deep enough for some of the big sailing ships to run right to the inward end of Shelter Island. Which is what they did. The old folks thought they’d be pretty safe back there, considering that no pirates could safely sail along all of that mile or so of river, not with soldiers placed on the banks. Hah, should have thought differently, them folks.
“Look, there’s a stretch of more than two hundred yards at the tightest between Shelter Island and the mainland. Sure, you can shoot an arrow across, but so what? How’re you gonna cross it?
“Huh? Right, there’s bridges. Ever take a close look at them, friend priest? Do it, and you’ll see they aren’t fixed. Ain’t got any pillars or anything, don’t have them, trust me. That’s barges underneath, what can be taken apart and swum right back to Shelter Island if someone tries to attack. What? Yes, that’s why they were shaking when you crossed them. Probably been some bit of a storm out on Shane’s Sea. Can feel it back here, too.
“And see, old Atpasom, they didn’t have much on Shelter Island. Just a mansion of the local lordling – eh, I keep forgetting what he was called. Doesn’t matter anyway.
“So there was this rich, fat city, and the Tonomai were coming during the Unholy Assault. What do you think happened?
“Uh-huh. City fell, razed to the ground, ‘cause they were too stupid to use what’s lying around.
“Sorry, friend priest, ain’t what happened. Oh, the garrison with the troops of the King of Kings, there was only burning debris left of it when the Tonomai went past it. And those galleons? Boy, they got themselves sunk so fast they might as well have done it themselves.
“Lots of people got slaughtered when the Tonomai attacked. Some fled way south, into the frigging Wild Coast. Good riddance to them cowards, I tell you. My own folks, they lived here back then, and they didn’t run away. Ain’t been a bloody Tonomai born in centuries what could have put the fear of their One God into my folks.
“Gotta hand it to that lordling back then, that he did some quick thinking. Was way too late, but at least he thought of it, anyway. While the Tonomai were attacking, he confiscated every ship in port and used it to ferry people across to Shelter Island, grabbing as many weapons and tools as they could get. That’s when the island got its name.
“Ahh, think of the sight. There was the Tonomai wanting to plunder the fortunes of Atpasom, but all they got were a couple of trinkets, with all the treasure and stuff being on Shelter Island. And what’s better, there were all the ships, quite a bit of siege equipment, you know, like them trebuchets of today, only they were called differently back then and weren’t quite as good. But my folks, all the folks there, they built some additional stuff, put every kind of heavy projectile in it and fired it across the Orbé at the Tonomai. Hah, must have been great!
“Yeah, probably wouldn’t have been any kind of real victory celebration afterwards. I mean, the Tonomai were pretty free to just pour across the Orbé, leave the folks on Shelter Island alone. A small siege would have been enough to starve them to death anyway, what with so many people crowded into the place and so little food to go around. And from tales I heard, they even used sheep to load their trebuchets. Not all of’em folks were really smart, you know.
“But that’s when the pirates came to the rescue. Y’know, the Commodore and his kind will tell you it was their ancestors. Doubt it, y’know. Just some way of claiming Freeport for themselves, that’s how I see it. Anyway, you’d think pirates would be just the worst kinds of people, would you? But those fellas, they came in with provisions for Shelter Island, fought the Tonomai and didn’t even ask for much in return. Didn’t take any of the treasure! All they wanted was to secure the place for themselves and to help the defenders in their plight.
“Huh? Well, I’d think a Darawk priest such as you would know best why they did that. Shenaumac may take the Tonomai, but they don’t abide any piracy in their waters. Kill any they see, go hunting for them, even. ‘course, most other nations do that, too, but not to the extreme these guys take. So the pirates were looking out for themselves. Might be they had a bit of religious fervor as well. After all, the Tonomai are infidels, ain’t they?
“So, the pirates aided our folks. And with their ships they got to destroy af few of the Tonomai galleons, enough so that they turned back and weren’t ever seen again. The lordling back then, he mustered some troops from his people – and my ancestors were among them! – whom he sent out across the Orbé, along with some hardy of the pirate fellows, and they put the fear of the Gods into those Tonomai.
“Sure they came back, with reinforcements, and they laid a real siege onto Atpasom. But with the pirates along for the ride, our folks held tight. Got themselves a few wizards too, and some clerics, yes. Those magic wielders put quite a few surprises in place along the Orbé, enough to make the Tonomai think twice ‘bout crossing it.
“Well, Atpasom never fell to the Tonomai. At least, Shelter Island didn’t. They got all of Arrufat, but they didn’t get the Wild Coast. People down there ought to be real grateful what my ancestors did for them!
“Pity what happened afterwards. Y’know, there’s a good reason this town ain’t called Atpasom no more. The Tonomai laid siege to the place for more than thirty years, and then they just called it quits. They pulled off, built a few fortresses a couple of miles up north and decided that their realm ended at the Orbé. With that, people around here started to wonder whether Shelter Island was such a great place to stay. Some stuck around here – like my folks what’s always believed in staying true to themselves -, and some strayed off down south, into the Wild Coast.
“For a while, there wasn’t much here except for a few goat herders, and what was left of Atpasom – I mean, both the old town on the river banks, and what the people built on Shelter Island during the siege. The pirates still came around here, knowing they had a secure place, and the populace really liked them, but that was about it.
“Took until the Commodore’s grandfather to make more of this place, and, boy, have we come a long way or have we?”