Thieves & Kings
The Principality of Shem - The Forest Kingdom
“To be born in Shem, not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but, with music in your blood and with poetry in your soul, is a privilege indeed”.
An independent realm of the Phaedran Worthhold, the realm was founded in TR 991, by “the Warduke”, a former military commander from Phaedra, when he was only 22 years-old. He managed to unite the petty realms of the Grandwood under his banner, and established a working relationship with the realms of Imladris and Greysmere. Nevertheless, his present prosperity came only after several assassination attempts, two forced invasions of Goblin-Kin, and recent wars with two of his neighbors, both The Shadow Dragon’s Remnant and The City-State of Crebain, along with skirmishes during the the secession of the Barony of Tauria. He and his heirs have established a good reputation with the Lord’s Alliance, and have converted a previously rebellious and hostile region of forest and hills into a flourishing center for trade.
The Warduke’s daughter Princess Adrianna Warduke, who inherited the realm following his death in TR 1042, is believed to be very similar to him in temperament, and has shown she can be comfortable in both the armor of war and the robes of state. The realm has a dark history, including the land of choice for exiles from Phaedra, and served as the center for two ancient domains – “The Realm of the Stag”, a magocracy that was crushed by the other, the “Kingdom of Korob”, a harsh goblin kingdom of foul magic and fouler deeds. The legacy of this era of conflict continues to appear from time to time. The primary trade goods of this land are numerous wood products, amber, and the odd magical artifact wrested from the ancient ruins and dungeons hidden among the eaves of the Grandwood.
Flora and Fauna
To enter the Grandwood is to become aware at once of the beauty that inspired Harin the Blind Bard and many other rustic poets : towering trees, the moist smell of earth, distant bird calls, butterflies in rainbow colors fluttering in pairs. One envies the local denizens.
The forest wanderer sometimes glimpses deer, foxes, badgers, martens, and wild hares. Besides a forest pond, one may see brown otters at play. In the branches or on cliff sides roost grouse, gannets and pheasants. The only natural predators in these areas are small wildcats, an odd osprey or golden eagle, and the occasional wolf pack or bear, though most of these have retreated into the far western or north-eastern wildlands.
Along cleared mountain trails the hiker will see azaleas, dwarf willows, and saxifrage; in the isolated fields, bluebells, buttercups, shamrocks, thistles and heather; in boggy soil, crowberry and blueberry and bog cotton. The Grandwood is almost entirely a dense deciduous forest – oak, maple, birch and other hardwoods being most common. Archenshield and Freestead provinces, however, feature more coniferous forests of spruce, fir and hemlock in their elevations, as does the far western extents around the Misty Crags. The coastal lands are rough, rugged cliffs, with trees lined right up to the shores, in all but the settled regions.
Shem is under constant cultivation along the central Ambarin River, and in scattered farms within close view of this important river; with grain (wheat, rye and oats), fruit (apples, cherries, berries, pears and plums), cabbage, beans and peas as the mainstay of their crops. Virtually all wild animals, except foxes and rabbits, have been eradicated by local dogs and livestock in these areas under cultivation; pigs, cattle. sheep, ducks, geese and chickens being the primary animals under domestication.
Adventurers hunting an Alothere
Monsters aren’t very common in the settled regions of Shem; but the areas untouched by the plow remain in the hands of the most ancient forest denizens. Several types of goblin-kin can be found in the Grandwood, and various goblin and bugbear tribes can still be found among its dark depths, particularly in the realms of Archenshield and Freestead. Wandering bands of gnollls sometimes pass through the edges of the settled lands of the Grandwood, but few stay long – there are few places that will withstand gnoll predation for long, since the local militias are often more than capable of driving the monsters away. Other monsters that are encountered along the forest’s edges, are ankhegs, dire bats, dire eagles or ravens, were-creatures and poisonous toads, snakes and insects.
Many monsters are found in the marshy regions of the Dreadwaters March or in the unsettled lands of the western or north-eastern wilds, but fantastic creatures such as griffons, owlbears and perytons have been reported in the highlands. Trolls are encountered in the rocky gorges of Shem’s Misty Crags, as well as in the depths of the Dreadwaters. No one’s seen a dragon, except passingly, for more than a hundred years. Undead are more common – in the dead of Winter, when the frosts of Enkara and shadows of Invis grow near, ghouls, ghasts and wights haunt the lonely places of the countryside.
Aside from these, the only major hazard in the wilds of Shem is the Alothere, a gigantic boar the size of a pony. The Alothere is highly territorial, irritable and aggressive. Though these boars have inhabited the Grandwood since before humans have settled Shem, they caused few problems before the Warduke’s settlement of the forests. As settlements and populations have increased, including the actions of the Timberwright’s and Charcoaler’s Guilds near Mornhaven the Alothere has moved into the frontier settlements. They attack isolated crofts and even patrols.
The provinces of Shem are connected by the narrow, twisting trails made by its traders, which are better suited to peasant carts drawn by oxen. These trails are also better suited for bandit ambushes, and only the most well-used have names, usually relating to major community’s along its track.
The sole exception to this, is the Forest Walk, a wide, straight and paved road of close-fitted greenish granite blocks, stretching from Mornhaven on the south coast, though the heart of the Grandwood to the northern Iberian lands of Blackgate. This trade route has become the life’s blood of the growing economy of the realm, and is another fitting monument to the triumph of the Warduke clan in establishing their dynasty. The “Woolen Ribbon” is the track that splits off at Cultan Ford, passing into the eastern eaves of the Grandwood to terminate at the port town of Grimstone, a community tied closely to ancient Ninn traditions and trade with both the elves and the dwarves.
Provinces within Shem are closely tied to traditional ancient “kingdoms” of human origins, and most have ties to ancient clans that have long held power or influence over the local population. In addition there are two demihuman kingdoms, and numerous small regions as yet unclaimed by the Principality, such as the Dreadwaters region, or the distant Westlaws, but the harshness of the terrain combined with remoteness has limited control until recently. The provinces and related realms of Shem are :
Barony of Ambarin – Heartlands
Barony of Archenshield – Realm of Secrets
Brightwall March – Fallen Glory
Dreadwaters March – The Black Lotus
Elmshire March – Realm of the Roseblade
Fellreeves March – Call of the Mountains
Barony of Freestead – The Stone Realm
Greensward March – Leaf and Blade
Barony of Seaholme – Songs of the Sea
Barony of Winewater – Blood and Wine
The Clans of the Grandwood at War
The lands of the Grandwood were first settled by the Elder races; elves and dwarves; scholarly excavation of ruins dating to this period are almost nonexistent. Early human occupation of the region was by tribes relying almost exclusively on fishing and hunting to survive. They made weapons of stone and wood, constructed crude huts or lived in caves, and lived a frugal, subsistence-level existence.
Then, civilization among humanity took a sudden jump in sophistication, almost overnight. Forging bronze weapons and armor, cutting trails through the forests, and joining its clans and communities with trade and marriage. Fierce hordes of “beast men” were common, and decorations on remaining pottery and the inlay of armor and weapons of the era, all depict distinct impressions of bugbears, goblins and hobgoblins from the Kingdom of Zog, engaged in raiding and pillaging these early efforts.
The rise of Parlan of the Hood in Shem has a particular importance on local history, because he was the first to unite these quarreling factions and wrote the tome that everyone uses as the basis for their laws on governance, “The Great Roll of the Battle of the Great Burn”, published in TR 317. His reign ushered in a series of sweeping reforms, prosperity, and is considered the entire basis for rulership of the forest kingdom today. Kingdoms that followed brought the Realm of the Stag and the Kingdom of Zog to ruins.
The untamed woodland of The Grandwood, was the site of numerous temporary lumber and fishing camps along its shoreline, none ever dwelt in for more than a month at a time. When the lack of ship-building quality timber became chronic on the islands, in TR 720, the Regent’s Council of Phaedra decided to establish the first permanent villages along the coastal mainland. Primarily in the villages of Seareach, Fort Caina and Raven’s Bay, the Council provided land grants and cash incentives to colonists willing to resettle in the frontier. For nearly a century, many people settled these lands, mostly consisting of landless freemen and nobles, leaving their decreasing opportunities among the home territories of The Kingdom of Phaedra – the Mage Isles for the chance at land and a new future in the frontier.
One such enterprising clan, were the Wardukes, who sold their inheritance in Phaedra for an army of mercenaries and set about conquering the region of the central Ambarin Valley. He became the Overthane of Shem in TR 988, and over several generations, he has managed to build the lands into what is now known as Principality of Shem, using guile, persuasion and the sword; whatever tool he had that was available and best suited to the task. His heir, Princess Adrianna Warduke has continued his legacy, bringing more and more territory under the axe and plow, while appeasing the local Elder kingdoms through trade, honest behavior and an implacable defense of those kingdom’s sovereign status and territories. Although she lost the Barony of Tauria due to her unwillingness to bow her reign to the Waterthorn clan, she has plans to bring the two western frontier regions into her fold as Marches in the very near future.
Today, the legends of adventurers and their work is what has tamed the region and forged the destiny of the realm. Even its neighbors have begun to feel the edge of adventurers blades and spells, in realms such as the the Ravensgaarde Republic, or the Westlaws, and as the woodsman’s axe cuts deeper into the wilderness, the more commonly the creatures and monsters of the wilderness have begun to strike back. The longer established Iberian City-States often gaze south at the resources being uncovered with covetous eyes, and are also increasingly flexing their agents and armies in an effort to claim the border territories before Shem does.