The Tale of Two Barons

"History is written with the blood of fallen heroes."

In later times historians would call 5103 a dark year; a time fraught with chaos and strife. It began simply enough, with the arrival of a blue-tailed comet. For the Trolls, the comet was an augury that called forth half-remembered prophecies and legends. The Krolvin hailed the celestial event as a harbinger of victories to come. The Elves looked upon it with little more than mild intellectual curiosity. To the Empress of the Turamzzyrian Empire, beginning her tenth year on the throne, the comet was a sign of the blessing of the gods. But to her vassal, the Baron meant war.

A Tale of Two Barons
by Lord Cryheart Thaxin and the Order of the Silver Gryphon

This tale begins like many other stories of legend, with two men -- two Barons, to be exact. Baron Lerep Hochstib of Jantalar and Baron Dunrith Malwind of Vornavis happen to share opposite ideologies and philosophies about their baronies, though they sit adjacent to each other.

Hochstib came to rule his barony by legitimate succession, the rightful son and heir of the previous Baron of Jantalar. Little is known about Malwind's background, but it appears he was also the rightful son and heir to the Barony of Vornavis.

Situated near the northwestern boundaries of the Human Empire, Jantalar began as an Imperial outpost built to protect the Empire's settlers from attacks by giantmen and other "less human" races that dwelt in the mountains, forests, and wastelands to the north. It is a relatively large city, primarily due to the fertility of the plains that it guards to the south and east. Jantalar has grown as much as it can without requiring a major increase in its resources. It is this limitation that Baron Hochstib seeks to remedy -- with the expansion to his territory (as evidenced by his political behavior over the last decade).

Standing to the southwest of Jantalar is the Barony of Vornavis. This is a seaport area, with the Free Port of Solhaven standing adjacent, and is ruled by Baron Malwind. A widower, he has a clever young son and a daughter who bears a crush for Sir Brinn Mithrandir of the Order of the Silver Gryphon (who was knighted by the Baron).

Baron Malwind has allied himself to the Landing for deliberate reasons. He knows that should it fall under Hochstib's control, Vornavis will be next.

In The Beginning

Early in history, the dwarves were mindful of the unusual regard shown to their race by the people of Vornavis, and directed a majority of the silver trade from the mines of Talador westward, to Vornavis and the port of Solhaven. In an official petition to the Imperial Throne, the ruler of Jantalar detailed the loss of revenue experienced from the inland territories to this racially based favoritism, and requested that the port's free status be revoked. The Emperor chose to do nothing, since the throne was receiving taxes from the silver trade in any case. This situation became the first official instance of animosity between Vornavis and Jantalar.

In the last twelve years, Baron Hochstib has gone to war with his neighbors twice, both conflicts resulting in victories for Jantalar. The first occurred in 5087 over Talador, a small Barony that had sprung up around a dwarven mining community that had played out its wealth decades ago. Talador's leadership had passed to humans several decades before it gained Hochstib's notice, but its dwarven heritage was strongly evident in its layout and buildings. Hochstib refused to believe that the once-rich silver mine Talador had been built on could not produce more wealth. He also saw Talador as a stronghold of Dwarven influence within imperial lands, and viewed its neutralization as a secondary benefit of taking over the barony.

It was after the taking of Talador, and the Baron's realization that the mine was worthless, that he became convinced he had been the victim of a nonhuman plot. In his mind, he had been drawn into expending his effort and resources on a worthless target by clever nonhuman agents bent on denying humans their rightful power in the area.

In 5091, a merchant power struggle in Jantalar between Dwarven gem cutters and Human jewelers left three human citizens dead. Enraged citizens called for the enforcement of Chaston's Edict against all nonhumans. Through this, Baron Hochstib was able to declare hundreds of Ordlyn (nonhumans) to be criminals, thus clearing the path for their enslavement in accordance with Imperial policy (which is still current to this day). A few Hathlyn (half-elves) that lived in the human community escaped this treatment, largely due to Hochstib's compassion for others of mixed race (like him).

Over the next several years, as the Baron set his sights on the Barony of Mestanir, he realized he needed outside help in order to neutralize the large number of magic users that dwelt there. To combat the wizards and sorcerers in Talador, Hochstib employed witch hunters -- mercenaries who specialized in countermagic and who trained specifically to dispatch magic users. However, the magic-using segment of Mestanir's populace was much larger than Talador's had been, and Hochstib knew that witch hunters would not provide the complete answer at that time. He would need something else....

Rumors were already afoot about Empress Mynal'lyanna's access to mana disruption crystals (so-called "Mandis Crystals"), huge "living" crystals of black stone that, once brought to life, would absorb all mana from the surrounding area. Hochstib saw this as the solution to his problem. Whether wholly of his own accord or as a result of questionable counsel, Hochstib embraced the Empress's doctrine of human supremacy in order to gain her favor (and her Mandis Crystals).

The Baron's initial conflict with Mestanir inflicted great losses on Jantalar's side; the witch hunters in Hochstib's employ were simply not enough to stop the spells of mass destruction flung at the army. Hochstib petitioned the young, new Empress for assistance, suggesting the use of a Mandis Crystal. The Empress consented to Hochstib's request and, with the power of the magic-dampening stone behind them, the mages of Mestanir were easily dealt with.

The angry townsfolk openly harassed the nonhuman business owners in the city of Jantalar, and "public outcry" demanded enforcement of the edict that prohibited nonhumans from owning property or holding guild positions within the city. As sentiments against nonhumans grew, nonhumans were first invited and later forced to leave the city. Those who would not leave of their own accord were taken to the silver mine at Talador to labor until "their souls were purified in labor for the good of Jantalar."

In truth, it was a death sentence for anyone sent to the mine at Talador. Sufficient food was never provided for the numbers working there. The only drinking water available was the water that flooded the mines' lower levels, and nothing was done to create even a semblance of safety in the ancient tunnels.

Dissatisfied with the rate at which the nonhumans imprisoned in Talador's mine were dying, Baron Hochstib was dismayed to learn that some of his soldiers assigned to guard duty there were providing food, water, and healing herbs to the prisoners. Recognizing that transferring them to other duty would simply spread their pro-nonhuman sentiments elsewhere, he assigned any soldiers that evidenced pro-nonhuman behavior to duty at Talador. Within six months he had all of his bad apples in one basket, and after covert agents incited a riot within the mines, he sent an entire guard contingent to quell the disturbance, collapsing the mine head behind them. He blamed the entire catastrophe on dwarven elements within the ranks of the prisoners, and pointed to their collapsing of the mine as an indication that their hatred of humans could have driven them to acts of self-destruction.

The "Crab" in the following song is a reference to Baron Hochstib. It is about the dwarves who were sealed in a mine at Talador by Hochstib.

Deep in the mines, down in the dark
Up rose a cry from deep in the heart
"Freedom!" they cried. "Freedom!" they called.
Freedom arose from the dwarven halls.

"They must be stopped," the Crab did cry.
"They must be stopped or I'll know why!"
Down the dark maw his troops did slide
Into that horde of dwarven tide.

They fought and yelled to no avail
Nothing would stop that rising wail.
And so at impasse they did arrive
But impasse does not the Baron drive.

"Seal the caves I do command!
"Seal the mines to the last man!"
So the Crab called out, so it was done
From the dark maw the sounds there were none.

Sealed in the dark both dwarf and man
Sealed in the dark by the Crab's left hand
Sealed in the dark was one man's soul
Sealed in the dark was the Crab's true role.

-Written by Errick Dyfedd

The Birth of the Order of the Silver Gryphon

Early in 5096, Hochstib sent his chief knight, Sir Maldon Wellesborne, to take command of a holding near the Landing, so that he could lay claim to the land there when the time came for the Baron to enact his next expansion plan. Maldon's son stayed behind, as he was the lieutenant in charge of the army sent by Hochstib into the mines to put down the uprising.

He was still inside the mines when the Baron ordered them sealed.

Once Maldon arrived at the Holding, he made it clear that his intention was not to lay claim to the Landing in the Baron's name nor assist his plan, but instead start an order of knights to help protect the town from Hochstib -- both militarily and politically. By producing a class of nobility here, he hoped to thwart the Baron's contention to the Empress that the Landing was unclaimed territory free for the taking.

There were some who assumed that Maldon was acting out of anger, turning against Baron Hochstib over the alleged death of his son. Regardless of his motives, twelve warriors were present when Maldon assembled his order in an effort to stop the Baron's expansion and racial tyranny. The Order of the Silver Gryphon was born.

The Soul arrived on Landing's water
Shorn of son, no longer father.
A dozen warriors strong and brave
Stepped up and heard the story grave.

The Holding searched and death was found
Death abed and beheaded to ground.
Assassin's badge and parchment torn
Knife in hand and armor worn.

Forge discovered, dwarves revealed
Message to Baron safely repealed.
A dozen warriors stood side by side
And swore to avenge that dwarven tide

Landing Safe and People true
The warriors pledged their strength to You
A dozen warriors a fortress small
Warriors against the Landing's fall.

-Written by Errick Dyfedd

Another Knight of Jantalar had previously occupied the Holding, and discovered a a forge and a dwarven mine in the basement. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances, his whereabouts and final fate unknown until the Holding was rediscovered by Maldon.

Upon searching the Holding, two bodies were found in the upstairs bedroom, revealing the knight's final fate. One corpse, a headless skeleton, still clutched a rusted knife that had been dipped in a sticky substance -- no doubt poison. On the skeleton's persons was a small triangle of parchment, a sort of Imperial "permit to kill" that Maldon claimed was often give to assassins and the ilk.

The other body was found on the ruins of the bed. Apparently, the assassin had managed to get his job done -- possibly nicking his target with the poisoned blade -- before losing his head to the dying knight's sword. Some armor was also discovered, as well as a page from a journal in which the knight noted that he found out something by accident during the solstice, and did not think the Baron would be pleased to hear of it.

Baron Hochstib sent a champion to the Holding to kill Malwind. Malwind picked his own champion, Lord Waldo2 Ptolomy, to fight him and succeeded in vanquishing Hochstib's errand boy.

Two other attempts on his life would follow. The most noteworthy was in 5098, when an assassin named Craban Agnarkris attacked from the shadows at Dame Deavon Laeran's and Lord Errick Dyfedd's wedding; an event well-attended by members of the OSG. A parchment found on Craban read: "Craban, you are to journey to the town of Wehnimer's Landing and seek out this group calling themselves the Order of the Silver Gryphon. You are to remove as many of these individuals as possible, as they have interfered in our plans too oft {the parchment is torn here and is missing a large section, near the bottom, you can barely make out the following} ...ron Hochsti.... {the rest of the letter is unreadable}." The second attempt was mere months later, but that assassin was also defeated.

Early on, the Order had heard rumors about the Mandis Crystal in the Baron's possession, supposedly obtained from the Empress by him. According to reports given by Sir Maldon, clerical and empathic spells were unaffected by it, but the Order discovered through intelligence work that bane weapons might be used against this threat.

Korm Khorzanamdur, a dwarf from the first Juggernaut, indicated that he might be able to assist them with the creation of these types of weapons, and so he became an ally, teaching the members of the Order how to forge.

Unfortunately, in a scouting trip to find more glyphs for forging he was kidnapped by Jantalarian forces and imprisoned. Talenni Shadowkyn, the Queen of Thieves in Jantalar, aided the Gryphons with their plans for a rescue mission to Jantalar.

It was at this time that the Order decided a "spy" should be sent to Jantalar to see if any information could be discovered about the Mandis Crystal.

The Rescue of Korm

Lord Aonghus MacGreghor suggested that his brother of spirit be recruited by the Order to take on the task of spying, and so it was that Lord Errick came into the Order at first as a spy.

At the same time, opportunity manifested in the form of a nephew of the Baron's. The young man was on orders to take a census of the Landing's population and report his findings to his uncle. The unspoken, ulterior motive, of course, was to check on the Landing's readiness and ability to withstand an invasion. Lord Errick was to accompany the nephew, Lovviestor, back to Jantalar.

However, Lovviestor became suspicious of the Landing (and Errick as well). Finding himself suddenly alone, Errick came upon a dear giantkin, Lady Thorissa (or something similar), who assisted him in escaping in an apple barrel. He rode in a caravan for several days... it seemed a long, long time indeed, packed tightly in the barrel and sleeping for the most part, until the dull movement and crashing had come to an end.

He climbed out of the barrel and into the capable hands of a woman who told him she was merely "a footpad", with no other name to know her by (she was really Talenni, the Queen of the Jantalar Thieves). The "footpad" suggested that a trip through the sewers might be instructive for him, and so Errick picked the lock on a grate and crept down into the stench. Once into the sewers he encountered no wildlife except a smell that had a life of its own, and made him crave the stink of apples he had grown tired of on his trip. Finally, Errick found a ladder leading up into the local brewery. Since there were no dwarves with freedom around the city, the local alcohol was sadly unfit for consumption, but a brewery worker there promised him to keep information flowing to the thieves and then by extension, the OSG. He confirmed that the Crystal was on its way to Jantalar, and was, by all reports, very large. As a pounding rattled the door, Errick departed down the ladder and back into the stink.

He met again with Talenni outside the grate and she produced a magic ring that would get him close to home. Errick returned to the Landing with word that the crystal was en route to the Baron from the Empress, but not yet in his possession. And that Korm was indeed imprisoned by Hochstib.

The Knights of the Order decided that they had to rescue Korm fast, and a plan was made. The Queen of Thieves guided them back to Jantalar, through the fetid sewers beneath the city. Soon they came upon a large guard working the dungeons, by the name of Gurbah Klaah. Half-ogre, half-centaur, Gurbah was huge and powerful, as Lord Waldo2 found out in an unsuccessful attempt to protect the rescue party.

With Waldo2 dead, Lord Cemb Chimare next challenged Gurbah to a fight, hoping to defeat the guard, and allow the party to continue on. They fought, but soon Cemb was defeated, too. As the two fallen warriors were restored to health and life by the Ladies Allwra Sylverblade and Gilwen Uilos, Lord Welan Cadwalider was next to challenge Gurbah.

Welan held out longer than his brothers in arms, but the result was the same. The situation looked hopeless. But Gurbah was impressed with both the honor of the group for not all attacking him at once, and the individuals for daring to challenge him at all. He was even more impressed that the Lady Allwra would take away his pain unconditionally, and he decided to accompany the Order members on their journey.

Within Korm's cell, amidst the screams of the other unfortunate men, women, and children, locked away in the prison, they found that the dwarf was already dead, a victim of torture and deprivation. Allwra and Gilwen healed and brought him to life again, but he was very weak and still quite upset about having his beard removed, as well as the Queen of Thieves's visits to him while he was captive. Apparently to keep his anger honed and his will to survive intact, the footpad had come by to taunt him daily. He vowed revenge, even as the party made their cautious way back out of the dungeon, running into the kiramon-infested tunnels of Jantalar, heading back to Wehnimer's Landing.

Jantalar, under Baron Hochstib, declared war upon the barony of Vornavis in 5096 and began the blockade of the bustling Free Port of Solhaven. Prior to Jantalar's blockade of the port, ships arrived in Solhaven daily from ports to the north and south along the seacoast, and also from Teras Isle.

In an effort to thwart the blockade of the free port of Solhaven, Baron Malwind ordered the completion of the caravan trade route to Wehnimer's Landing in the year of 5098.

In the meantime, Sir Maldon had received a message about his son -- a rumor and a possible sighting. He left the Order of the Silver Gryphons to travel back to Jantalar. According to Baron Malwind, Sir Maldon was last heard to be back in the employ of the Jantalarian court, under the close scrutiny of Baron Hochstib.

Vornavis and Jantalar Today

Anyone who has visited Jantalar within the last two years has encountered a city where any nonhumans traveling openly are publicly ostracized and shunned. A visiting nonhuman would be refused service in all but the most wretched dives, and would be harassed by the guards at the city gates. They would also be warned that they had no business within the city's walls after sundown. Any nonhumans found within the city walls after sunset are imprisoned until they can be beaten, en route to the barony's northern border, and then banished from Jantalar for the remainder of their unnatural lives.

The underlying reality is far more complex -- nonhumans are necessary for the city's ongoing functions and continued commerce, and some do still live and work in the city, albeit under a low profile. They travel heavily-cloaked during daylight hours, and dart from building to building under cover of darkness, risking the penalties of the nonhuman curfew.

Not too surprisingly, the unique talents of each of the different races is still utilized by the city and by the Baron; giantmen as warriors or for heavy labor, elves for hunting and herbalist skills, dwarves for their crafting and mining skills, but any nonhuman is painfully aware that their position is precarious and can be destroyed at the whim of any human in Jantalar.

The baron's castle stands on the northern side of the city, its outer walls forming part of the city's north wall. It has expanded outward and upward from the original imperial keep. Since the fertile farmlands that sustain Jantalar are to the south and east, and the outer threats always came from the north or west, the town has grown up with the more respectable homes and businesses in the quarter to the south and east of the castle. The less reputable or more mundane businesses reside in the northern and western quarters. The worst of Jantalar lies beyond the city's walls sprawled to the northwest.

Baron Hochstib's interest in Vornavis is twofold. First, Vornavis is practically Jantalar's ideological opposite; and second, embracing the city of Vornavis on its western side is the Free Port of Solhaven. Possessed of an elitist mentality of their own, the citizenry of Vornavis are very conscious of who is and who is not a citizen of their city. Citizens are undeniably more fortunate than their non-citizen brethren, regardless of race. Ironically, it was Vornavis's original location, just a bit too far from the seashore, which led to the existence of the Free Port of Solhaven and the very clear demarcation of Vornavis proper. Early citizens of Vornavis saw the uncivilized and sometimes lawless conduct of the lower class elements of Solhaven as elements to be shunned, and laws were soon enacted to clearly enforce citizenship of Vornavis as an institution.

Isolated by distance and mountains, Wehnimer's Landing went unnoticed until the Baron of Vornavis, learning of Jantalar's plans to establish a naval blockade of his seaport, looked around for other means of supplying his city. Several years ago the Baron of Vornavis established plans for an overland trade route with the Landing in the form of a caravan trail. The effect on the Landing has been to draw it into the conflict as an ally of the Barony of Vornavis. There have been rumors that Baron Hochstib will invade Wehnimer's Landing, in order to completely cut off Vornavis. His herald, Holswort Niffelheim, visited the Landing in an attempt to persuade the citizens to accept Baron Hochstib as a protector.

Baron Hochstib still has plans to annex Wehnimer's Landing in an attempt to completely surround the barony of Vornavis. Recently, Sir Edumond Tallaway, knight of the Order of the Golvern Star, came to speak with citizens of the Landing and the Order of the Silver Gryphon. He proposed an assumption that Hochstib's goals are still expansion, as he has been expanding Jantalar for years now. He also suggested that the Baron wants to become the new Northern Sentinel.

The previous Northern Sentinel had ruled long ago that regions protected by recognized nobility, specifically in this case -- knights, cannot be taken by force within the Empire. Sir Edumond said he did not think this ruling has been overturned. In order for Baron Hochstib to claim the Landing, he would have to do either of two things: become the new Northern Sentinel and change the ruling or discredit the current knights. Sir Edumond stated, "If Hochstib can discredit or remove the knights or the liege who knighted them, or change the ruling of the former Sentinel, there would be no political block to his outright invasion of this region. This is not a warning, merely clear thought." Sir Edumond indicated that Hochstib's armies are large and growing steadily. Hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers could easily be dispatched to the Landing, though there is doubt that he would deem such a number necessary.

Baron Hochstib still continues to order the blockade of the free port of Solhaven in an attempt to put a stranglehold on Vornavis. Baron Malwind has a free trade route with Wehnimer's Landing to maintain his resistance to Jantalar. How will history unfold to tell the tale of both baronies and the fate of Wehnimer's Landing?