The City of Cowls
History of the West Marches
Less a nation that a coalition of fiercely independent baronies, the West Marches were for most of their history dominated by foreign powers. Only recently have they truly come into their own and begun to chart their own course in the world.
The land that would become the Marches was originally known as the Westwood, a deep expanse of primal forest, sparsely settled by elves of Tiormaer but otherwise unoccupied by speaking people. As they empire of Tuaratha grew and expanded, her need for resources grew as well, and she began eyeing the Westwood. The first record of a logging camp dates to TY 804, at a place called Vettenvode, which is today known as Waymeet. Almost immediately, settlers began migrating to the newly opened lands, seeking opportunities for wealth and escape from the ever-present Church of Asmodeus, if only for a little while.
Logging camps turned to hamlets and farms, and fishing villages sprang up along the coast. In TY 1215, these villages were the targets of a wave of Beastman invaders in terrifying bull-headed longships sailing in from the west. In search of land and plunder, they tore into the undefended settlements mercilessly; Tuaratha was unconcerned and did little to repel them. It fell to the settlers to drive off the invaders, a task which took nearly a century and laid the foundation for the fighting spirit of self-reliance that still characterizes the Marchfolk. It also sowed the seeds of dissent against the newly Tiefling dominated aristocracy of the Empire.
By TY 1944, a new faith had taken root in the West Marches of the Empire of Tuaratha, and it was antithetical to the Church of Asmodeus. The people had turned to Pelor in great numbers, and even began building churches dedicated to the sun god. A vicious purge followed, as hordes or Asmodean clergy flocked to the Marches to implement the Western Inquisition. Thousands were interrogated, tortured, and executed in very public fashion, to discourage the worship of any god other than the state-sanction Church. The Inquisition succeeded in driving worship of Pelor underground, but it never really managed to stamp it out completely. It mattered little, as the Scatheling War was going poorly, and soon the Marches would be left to fend for themselves.
This finally came to pass in TY 2170, as decreed in the Proclamation of Western Liberty issued by Emperor Haalzephor III, which officially ceded the lands “West of the River Ironrock and north of its Great Bend to the inhabitants thereof, in perpetuity, that they may manage their own affairs and govern themselves as they see fit.” In other words, they were on their own. The land was, for the most part, used up, and the forest was almost completely cut away. Still, the Marchfolk did the best they could, even as famine reduced their numbers severely. They shed no tears when Tuaratha fell.
For the next century the Marchfolk strove to rebuild their land, to replenish the soil and replant the forest. They were aided in TY 2299 by the arrival of a delegation of elves out of Tiormaer, who offered to settle the northern fringes of what remained of the Westwood, in return for which they would use their primal magic to accelerate the regrowth of the forest. The Marchfolk agreed, and the West Marches were effectively reborn. By TY 2365, the population of the Marches had soared, enough so that the various barons began plotting against one another, forming secret alliances to promote their own interest. Mere survival was no longer a concern.
Alas for the Marchfolk that their newfound prosperity would not be theirs for long. In the spring of TY 2420, a Bryish armada landed at Salidus and proclaimed Bryish sovereignty over the lands and peoples of the West Marches. The Marchfolk fought bravely, but they were outnumbered and overcome by the superior Bryish generals, and in TY 2422 the last holdout, Hillgarde, fell to Brye after a six month siege. The West Marches were an occupied land.
The occupation was never easy for Brye, especially in its first years. Almost every year saw a revolt somewhere in the Marches, always repressed, but still a drain on resources. The biggest came in the summer of TY 2445. Known today as the Tallfields Rising, it was centered in Waymeet, the capital of the Bryish Marches, and it succeeded in burning several noble villas and capturing the son of the Count before it was brutally repressed. As the rebels died by the score, Count Seamus offered amnesty to all remaining rebels if they would surrender and return his son unharmed. They did so; the ringleaders were promptly hanged, the rest dispossessed and shipped off to Cuillean’s Isle and forced to fend for themselves in that hostile land. Most were captured by Firbolgs and died in their mines, the rest became wild and savage hill-folk.
In TY 2490, the Sunlands took an interest in the Marches. Having finally put their own affairs in order and put an effective government in place, the successor to Tuaratha decided to press the ancient Tuarathi claim to the Marches, especially since they had been replenished by Elven magic. Brye saw things another way, and war ensued, embroiling the southern Marches in a decade of conflict that ended only when Esterhaven rose against the Regent of Pelor in protest and he was forced to recall his troops and make a temporary peace with Brye. Still, the conflict would smolder for years, occasionally erupting into a violent blaze.
For a realm that spent years under the heel of foreign occupiers, the Marches produced more than its share of innovators. One such was the alchemist Yvor of Brillian, who in TY 2548 revealed to all his newest creation: smokepowder. The world will never know how different things might have been, for smokepowder never caught on as a weapon. Compared to magic it is dangerous and unreliable; it is seen instead as a toy, used for entertaining fireworks and noisemakers. Still, a very few handgonnes were made and exist still in the Museum of Curiosities in Brillian.
In TY 2611, an innocuous event happened which would have far-reaching consequences to the realm. The Count of Waymeet was gifted the neighboring barony of Ironroot, whose baron had died childless, and was elevated to the rank of Duke. With this act, the Duchy of the Plains became the most powerful fief in the Marches, and it ruler the most influential person in the land. He would steer the fortunes of the realm. Unfortunately, the wise and forthright duke did not live long enough to make his mark, dying of a wasting illness and leaving the scepter to his incompetent brother in TY 2620. Almost immediately, Duke Rhythaur slid into decadence and corruption, soliciting bribes from any who would pay them and spending the treasury on lavish parties of legendary debauchery. His influence spread through the land, and the Bryish ruling class began to weaken as other lords began to emulate him. The situation came to a head in TY 2667, when first Waymeet, then the rest of the Marches, rose in a bloody and brutal revolution that lasted for three terrible years. No Bryish noble was left alive; the throne in Faesdall sent no aid, as the High King was just as decadent as his lackeys on the mainland and chose not to waste the resources on a “Continental squabble.” In 2670, the Baron of Aborys was finally pulled from his high seat and beheaded, the last Bryish noble to fall. The leaders of the various peasant militias placed themselves on the seats of power and took the noble titles of their former overlords. The Marches had finally won their freedom; they would defend it zealously.
The next century was a time of great change and frequent hardship. The dormant volcano known as Mount Fortenkald erupted explosively in 2697, the ash cloud causing severe damage and many deaths in Port Aborys. Since then, the cone smoked ominously several times, but it would be almost a century before the next, catastrophic, eruption.
Sometimes, the new rulers are worse than the old ones. This was the case in 2706 when the true extent of the madness of Frederic, Duke of Waymeet, became apparent. Frederic was the son of Francis ver Moelen, the first free Duke who had led the liberation of Waymeet during the revolution. His son had not inherited his moral stature; he had instead developed a morbid fascination with necromancy and death, and had a penchant for killing those he found attractive and reanimating them, to surround himself with a secret court of the undead. When the gravity of his depredations became apparent, the people of Waymeet violently deposed him and installed his uncle Simon as the new duke. Frederic fled before he could be hanged, aided in his escape by the very creatures he had created. None know his fate.
Duke Simon was a strong leader, and he consolidated his power. rather than fall back into petty rivalries as so many of the barons were, Simon made treaties and allies. By 2712, he had made treaties of non-aggression with all of the Plains’ neighboring fiefdoms, and in 2718, he managed to forge a treaty between every one of the March states, for mutual defense against any outside aggressor. This would prove vital in the years to come.
In TY 2728, the northernmost of the Baronies, Northill, sent colonists across the border with abandoned Tiormaer, seeking to occupy her empty cities and plunder her wealth. The very land itself seemed to rise against them, and the colonies were abandoned within a year. The next decade or so was notable only for the intensity of Wolfblood raids out of the northern seas, which peaked in 2736, the Year of Burning, when none of the coastal villages was spared and the Marches were forced to cooperate with the Sunlands and even Brye to drive the sea reavers back.
As the years went by and the network of alliances between the barons become more and more tangled, a major war became inevitable. This came to pass in 2741, when a minor border skirmish between Aborys and Corellis drew Dorchester, Woodsend, Fields, Westwood, Deepwood, and Densmore into the fray, escalating into a two-year long civil war. Despite the carnage, very little land changed hands, and the conflict sputtered out due more to exhaustion on the part of the belligerent parties than any resolution of grievances.
Simon of Waymeet’s foresight proved valuable in 2751, years after his death, when the long looked for Bryish fleet landed south of Salidus. Coast’s armies immediately formed up and held the invaders long enough for armies to muster across the Marches. The Bryish forces won their way a mere seven miles inland, and it took them three weeks. When the combined army of the Marches crashed on them like a tidal wave, they were driven back to the shore in less than two days…where they found their guards slain and their boats burning. Less than one in twenty ever returned to Brye to tell the tale of their total defeat.
A mere four years later, a mad sorcerer called up a horde of demons and rapacious creatures from miles around in his attempt to transcend mortality. He was thwarted by a band of brave heroes, but the town of Tranth was utterly destroyed along with all of its citizens. The capital of Tranth barony moved to Brillian, where Lord Mayor Diamont took the title of Baron – and since the lord mayor is appointed by the Merchant Council, this may be the first case of any sort of representative government on the face of Sylua. Time will tell how it fares.
The last forty years nearly saw the outbreak of a holy war in the Marches. It started in 2762, when worshippers of Kord in Stoutrock clashed with the faithful of Bane in Crache, deepening a rift between their rulers, as both churches hold great power in their respective states. Matters came to a head in 2766, when the baron of Crache quite surprisingly converted to Kord’s faith. It is not clear what he hoped to gain from this; what he did gain was a savage death, as angry Banite faithful dragged him bodily from his high seat and beat him to death in his own great hall; some of his guards were among their number. Furious, the folk of Stoutrock mounted a series of raids on Crache, who responded in kind; the new baron had repudiated his father’s apostasy, securing his position (and his head.)
Discord was not limited to the southlands; in 2775, in the north, someone began mounting lightning raids along the border between Corellis and Woodsend. Both sovereigns denied responsibility, but relations between the two former friends deteriorated, and war loomed large on the horizon.
2781 dawned red, as Woodsend marched forces into Corellis before the winter snows were done melting. Corellis beat them back and immediately began burning logging villages across the border. As they fought, Aborys launched a massive force into Corellis, sacking the capital and murdering the Count’s family before falling on the Corellis army from behind. It was a slaughter. The Aborys force pushed deep into Woodsend before being stopped by that nation’s forces, reinforced by the remainder of Corellis’ army. Aborys retreated, adding the County of Corellis to its holdings; Gregor Aborys began styling himself the Archduke of the Riverlands. Count Lucas Corellis, burning with rage and hate, formed a force of Rangers to raid the Aborys holdings by night. They were not known for taking prisoners.
In 2787, Mt Fortenkald erupted, spilling ash on the “Riverlands” and killing thousands. The Great Red Wyrm Fortenkald, imprisoned in the mountain centuries ago by Tiefling wizardry, was awakened and sallied forth with a vengeance. It burned Port Aborys to cinders before returning to the smoking mountain to sleep.
Taking advantage of the chaos, Count Lucas led his force of rangers into Corellis lands, slaying with impunity, terrorizing the occupiers, and finally driving them out in 2788. He had retaken his throne, but still felt the loss of his wife and children like a knife in the heart. By 2797, Count Lucas was ready to act. Aborys had become a shadow of its former self, still struggling to rebuild after the dragon attack of ten years past. Lucas rallied his people and led them in a ravening horde east to Aborys. The marauding band slew, and took, and despoiled, and the soldiers of Aborys who faced them saw the hate in their eyes and turned tail, some slinking back in the night to join their ranks, some fleeing to other, neighboring lands. When the army reached Aborys, the people of the half-ruined city dragged “Archduke” Gregor Aborys screaming from his castle hall and offered him up to Count Lucas, who dispatched him on the spot.
2798 dawns on a darker Marchland; Aborys is now referred to as “The Wastelands”, while poor, mad Lucas Corellis broods and sinks deeper into his soul’s darkness. These lands need heroes, to bring light and life back to the dark places before it is too late.