Thieves & Kings
The Border Kingdoms - Blood and Gold
“Blood and Gold”
The Border Kingdoms, also known as “The Middle Domains”, are a collection of over forty principalities scattered throughout the eastern stretch of the Shatter, and all are constantly warring against one another. Originally formed with the collapse of the Imperium in TR 1024, there has always been a fiercely independent streak in the local population, fueled by the skirmishing between the knights of Antonica and the Imperial Legions. When the yolk of tyranny fell from the shoulders of the border princes, the area fragmented into the perennially squabbling realms of today.
There are three major powers; The Aristocratic Republic of Evendim, the Kingdom of Pikewarden and the Kingdom of Stonefist, but over a dozen significant Baronies also exist, along with a host of minor states, ranging from moderate-sized baronies down to tiny city-states of only a few thousand citizens. Each is ruled by a nobility, often called “Burk-Lords” or “Burk-Princes” by the locals, many of whom have tenuous hereditary ties to the ancient imperial realms, but are just as often a former adventurer striving to carve-out a kingdom of their own. The terrain is broken and hilly, it’s locals surviving through harvesting timber, mining and agriculture, but the region’s chief export is trained mercenaries and adventurers.
Much of the land of the Middle Domains is rugged and hilly, and its towns, or “burks” are often built on the ruins of ancient tribal camps, valuable fortified sites that have proven easily defended down the centuries. Bounded on the north-east by the Kingdom of Antonica, on the west by the broken ruins of the Shatter, and on the south by both the Republic of Fairhaven and the vast mountains of the Beast Shards.
A traderoad passes through Fairhaven, but is often considered the single factor that holds the Middle Domains together. Most other roads in the realm are dirt trails winding through hills and the vastness of the ancient Corin Forest. While private and well-made “highways” exist in some of the domains, these are rare and heavily patrolled.
Much of the domains are rich pastureland, hacked from the ancient Corin Forest. Herd animals of all types can be found grazing in the hills, with hunting and hawking popular pastimes among the nobility and wild game abounds. The most dangerous creatures in the Middle Domains include wild auroch and treecats, who infest the remnants of the ancient woodlands, usually located along the borders of each domain.
Although each of the Middle Domain demesnes consider themselves semi-independent, each has ties, usually through marriage, to one of the “Big Three”; Evendim, Pikewarden and Stonefist.
Craftsmanship, especially armoury, is highly respected in the Border Kingdoms. Burk-folk are traditionally skilled in arms, and are generally warlike.
A burk-lord’s word, so long as it does not contravene the sword Edict, is law. Major offenses, such as murder, assassination, or a breach of the Sword Edicts, are usually handled with a headsman’s axe. Fines and public floggings are common for minor offenses.
The only trial is an audience with the local lord or his representative. Their opinion much more heavily than any legal precedent. Often the fastest talker wins out. Disputes between realms are handled by the Sword Council, or, more likely, war.
Slavery : Recalcitrants, prisoners of war, enemies of the state, and debtors are all put to use by those nobles who can afford them. A talented, healthy slave can be expected to bring about 100 gp on the auction block. Most slaves can be freed by their owners at any time; only in the case of dangerous prisoners, is this often ignored. “Indenturing” is a special form of slavery wherein the indentured remains the property of the owner for a specific period of time in exchange for some sort of remuneration; often this includes training as an apprentice, but is popular among peasants seeking land and property of their own.
Military and Warfare
Every demsene in the Middle Domains keeps a standing army, supplemented by local spear levies and mercenary condottas when required. Since warfare is the standard way of life in the region, both as sport and religion, their military soldiers and units are considered among the best in Argoth., and often sought for service. Prior to the fall of the Coranik Empire, the bulk of its Legions were made up of Freefighters contracted by the government.
Warfare among the states of the Border Kingdoms is regulated by a sophisticated code called the “Sword Council Edicts”. Since ninety percent of the population tend to be members of the Sword Cult, of which the Sword Council is its administrative body, the Council’s decrees carry great weight. Military rank in the Border Kingdoms is very important and often carries the same status in civilian life. Any unit encountered in the Middle Domains should be considered one level higher than expected, except in the case of regional militia.
Freefighters : The common term for mercenaries, they are typically formed of the younger son of a burk-lord, as it offers prestige, honor, and the chance to prove oneself through constant battle. Companies are of many sizes, from small groups to cohorts of organized bands under the command of a captain. Larger units tend to be in the hire of the “Big Three”, but few others could afford them, and these forces require favors fo the larger nations to employ.
Sword Council Edicts : To prevent larger and stronger demesnes from destroying smaller ones, the Sword Cult enforces chivalric rules and usages of war, known as the “Sword Council Edicts”.
As described by most initiates, “What it boils down to is this; a smaller state may attack a larger, but a larger state may not attack a smaller, except in retaliation for an overt attack… A smaller state may enter into compact with one or more others of comparable size to attack a larger, but if they lose, then all of them are open to attack by the larder state they attacked. But should a larger state openly declare war on a smaller state, unprovoked, things will get sticky for them.”
“It may even start before he attacks, for when his intent is made clear, all Sword Initiates (which should include his vassals and his Freefighters) are bound by Sword Oath to desert him. If his force contains sufficient non-Initiates or oath-breakers for him to actually press his attack, then he is certainly dead and his dynasty as well. All surrounding states , large and small will likely march against him. His lands and titles will be forfieted to the ruler he attacked. If he fails to die in battle, then he will be hauled before a tribunal of the Sword Cult, who will decide the manner of his execution. Likewise all surviving oath-breakers in his service. Non-Initiates are subject to Sword Cult discipline.”
Languages : Burkers speak with the slightly nasal, harshly slurred dialect called “Border Kingdom Common”. Trade Common is fairly typical, as are the dialects of the former Coranik Empire.
Coinage : The Border Kingdoms mint silver knights and gold crowns, usually made from former coins of the Kingdom of Harzburk and Coranik Empire. Other coinage is typically older coins from both these states, with a few from the Kingdom of Antonica, though that realm mints all its own coins, and maintains tight controls on its export.
The fragmented and perennially squabbling Border Kingdoms had their beginning during the migration of well-armed tribes of humanity who converged on the mineral-rich regions of the hills bordering the northern Beast Shards. The various tribes skirmished for decades, with larger states conquering smaller states until all the demesnes were united under the single banner of the Kingdom of Harzburk.
It was this unification that saved the Border Kingdoms culture when in TR 341, the fledgling Coranik Empire swept into the region. When these armies first entered the borders of Harzburk, they encountered a stubborn resistance united under one banner. The invading tribes pulled back to consolidate the borders, and nearly ten years passed before they once more turned their attentions to the mineral rich lands of the Border Kingdoms. By that time, however, the Kingdom of Harzburk was prepared. As days turned to months and months to years in their skirmishes, with neither side able to gain the upper hand, a century of warfare settled into an uneasy peace, founded on mutual respect and exhausted resources rather than formal declaration.
The Coranik Empire busied itself with its chief enemy, the Kingdom of Antonica, and and the Kingdom of Harzburk soon faced its own issues, in the form of a firebrand Barons of Evendim and Pikewarden, who wished to continue fighting the Empire. Failing this, they returned to their own demesnes and declared their independence from Harzburk.
This rebellion worsened with the Great Earthquake of TR 482, which brought down mountains and raised rivers, damaging the south-western margins with floods and famines, destroying towns, forts and farms without prejudice. The Tauri first appeared in these ravaged realms, and overcame the survivors with slavery and war. The ordered military society of the Middle Domains was plunged into chaos.
The self-declared Kingdoms of Evendim and Pikewarden were quickly joined by the Barnoies of Red and Bathelm, first attacking the territories of Harzburk, and then turning on each other. Many smaller domains quickly declared their independence from Harzburk, as that state could no longer protect them, and cast their lots with either Evendim or Pikewarden. Harzburk was not without its own supporters, but the Kingdom itself was sundered.
With the chaos after the fall of the 1st Coranik Empire in TR 565, and the subsequent religious chaos that led through the Theocracy of Theodorus, the realm had a century to concentrate on its own problems, though this did little beyond codify their articles of war under the a Sword Cult, led by priests of Sarrok. This code, known as the Sword Edict became the chief religion of the realm, ensuring that warfare remained “civilized”, and that the large could not easily prey on the weak.
When the 2nd Coranik Empire rose from the ashes of the Balshan Jihad in TR 661, it began recruiting troops from among the war savvy soldiers of the Middle Domains. By the time of the Salt War (TR 701-733), soldiers from the Middle Domains were serving in most armies in Antonica and the Coranik Empire as mercenaries. From these conflicts, the chief export of the region became its trained and talented warriors.
Since that time, the realm has served in the armies of whichever power can afford them, and has developed its own unique traditions, chief of which is the Sword Edicts, but also closely follows the teachings of Sarrok, and his priests have a great deal of power in most realms of the Border Kingdoms.