Ghotharand is a flat, barren land in the north eastern end of Aestis
. Its coastlines are made up of rocky windswept cliffs and empty inlets and coves. Much of the land is tundra and even the areas converted to pasture have poor soil that becomes quickly exhausted.
The people of this land are grim, stubborn and cynical. With villages often being lost to dust storms, for Ghothars life is a constant struggle; against the elements, against Veskans, and the realm of Mordikhaan. Many feel bitter and resentful that other nations have enough to eat, while Ghothars, a proud warrior people, must eternally struggle.
The Ghothars colonised the lands they now call home eleven centuries earlier, having crossed the seas from the northern continent of Ty’Zan, along with the tribes that now make up the Kingdom of Veska. The indigenous peoples of the North East, the Elsari, were tricked and terrorised out of their lands and have survived Ghothar rule ever since.
Some wiser Ghothars understand that the Elsari are actually the only hope that Ghotharand has for survival, as it is these nomadic tundra peoples who understand the lands the Ghothars seized. Unfortunately for the Ghothars, wise heads do not prevail among their leaders, as King Roharradh of Ghotharand is impulsive, arrogant and foolish.
Ghothars who travel across Aestis are known for their courage and their ability to endure hardships that most Arclanders could hardly imagine. They are fierce, bold warriors who know the virtues of a good sword and care for little else. They have a constant sense of inferiority and resentment at wealthier societies, viewing them as weak. Ghothar women have little time for their menfolk, rightly seeing them as arrogant and lazy.
The Ghothars and their Veskan cousins were two branches of the same people, the Aaruhke, who inhabited the south eastern coastal lands of Ty’Zan. The Aaruhke, over time, had grown increasingly weak and were pushed towards the sea by more powerful northern rivals. The tribes split in two, with northern and southern Aaruhke factions being led by princes and a bitter enmity began to grow between them as they feuded over land.
It was decided, in a moment of rare agreement between the Aavaskar (the northern tribe) and the Nulvaskar (the southern tribe) that the lands across the seas to the south were the best chance either peoples had for survival. It was also agreed that both branches of the Aaruhke family should work together for as long as it took to reach the new continent. After that an agreement should be struck about where both peoples should settle and colonise.
The Aaruhke were a people whose history and identity were entrusted to skalds, great poets and loremasters who it was said had been taught song by the Graces themselves. It was only the skald Svan-Hyrikson who, with song and wise counsel, held the two tribes together long enough for the great journey to take place.
The Aavaskar and the Nulvaskar built great longships and in waves set sail for the new land, stopping at the island of Skor Barradh mid way, where an all out war between the differing factions broke out. An advanced party of Nulvaskar had sailed to the lands that now comprise Veska and quickly realised the horror lurking there. Hideous silent, skeletal giants roamed the shores, and the Nulvaskar called them Gorins, meaning ‘death walkers’. Knowing these foul creatures existed, the Nulvaskar planned a terrible betrayal of their cousins.
They returned to Skor Barradh and cruelly informed their northern cousins that the land was bountiful and safe, dooming successive waves of Aavaskar to their deaths. It was Svan Hyrikson who knew of the deception, and who demanded that the Nulvaskar atone for their sins.
The princes of the Nulvaskar murdered the Skald on the beaches of Skor Baradh, but it was his handmaiden and surrogate daughter, Ghoti, who arose to replace him and lead the Nulvaskar (after punishing the murderers) to a salvation of sorts in what became Ghotharand. The Northerners had little choice but to land on the coasts that they had been designated at Skor Baradh, knowing that other available lands had now been seized by their duplicitous southern cousins.
Ghoti led her people, now known as the Ghothars to conquer the north east of Aestis through subterfuge. She convinced the native Elsari to open the gates to their mud walled cities and admit the increasingly desperate Ghothars. Once they had been shown hospitality, the Ghothars seized the citadels of the semi nomadic Elsari and raised their banners, claiming the barren land as their own.
The promises made to those crossing the great sea, of land, livestock and bountiful harvests, turned out to be as empty as the dry earth the Ghothars farmed.
In the two centuries that followed the Ghothars invaded Veska twice and, during a period of uneasy peace, allied with their former Veskan foes to plunder Oloris. One of the darkest chapters in Ghothar history began in -922, when they established slave forts along the Olorian deltas. Olorian slaves were taken northwards, along the eastern coasts of Aestis, to Ghotharand and, though to a much lesser extent, to Veska. In Ghotharand, they were forced to work the land for the Ghothars and to work to death in the salt pans of the great interiors of the country.
For the past three hundred and sixty years Ghotharand has been ruled by one dynasty, the Kanderson monarchy, which established its capital in the northern coastal city of Khozan. The current monarch Roharradh, has sat on the throne for five years and in that time has struggled with the problems he has inherited from his father. Vain, spoilt and lazy, Roharradh seeks to avoid problems and confrontations, instead preferring to leave the the day to day administration of his kingdom to the Council of Earls, who serve as his advisors and governors.
He is unaware that his weakness as a monarch has led to some of his closest allies considering how best to remove him from the Seaward Throne, the seat of power in Ghotharand. There are nine earls whose fiefdoms govern the vast interior of the country and its more valuable coastline. Most of the wealth of Ghotharand comes from the seas, in the form of fishing and trade and many of the earls are interested in acquiring more coastline instead of land.
The marshals of the great plains of Ghotharand rely on hundreds of sheriffs to administer their rule among the tythings (villages or hamlets). Ghothar peasants are divided into bondfolk, serfs who are effectively the property of the earls, and freemen who are at liberty to live and farm where they please. The Elsari make up a separate social category and are in many ways more free than the poorest of the Ghothars.
Their tribes, so long as they refrain from revolt or cattle theft, are granted ‘wandering charters’, allowing them to follow the nomadic herding routes across Ghotharand that their ancestors used for centuries. They pay a small tax when they cross through the nine earldoms and they often attract the attention of overzealous sherriffs. At the fringes of Ghothar society, but essential to its workings, are the Bordermen Rangers.
They are normally men and women of peasant stock who see themselves as answerable to no earl, but who have been relied upon by the crown to patrol the edges of Ghothar lands. They go to the places that Ghothar sheriffs are afraid to patrol, looking for fugitives, passing on intelligence and monitoring the presence of Gorins and other creatures from the vast plains between Veska and Ghotharand. Sometimes they earn a living by guiding unwary travellers and trade caravans through these dangerous territories, but often they are simply the men and women who can only live in peace beyond the limits of Ghothar society.
The one major resource that the Ghothars have are the vast salt flats that stretch across the country’s heartlands. The Rozparan (Rose Desert, named for the red iron salt that is prized by tanners and curers of meat across Aestis), is seen by the Ghothars as a deathly waste.
However, the Elsari nomads survive by selling the salt across the continent and unbeknownst to the Gothars, also know that a purer crystal lies beneath the red despots containing curious properties. The Elsari tribe that is dominant in the salt trade is the N’ul Ar Ande.
They live in a series of nomadic settlements around the end of the Rozparan (the Lyacthane or Iron Sea, as it is called in Elsari) which, over the centuries, has gradually become a vast yurt city around the edges of the dead salt lands. Known to the Ghothars as Uchthur or ‘waste settlement’, the Elsari call their home Lyacharoc
, the city on the Iron Sea.
The Elsari are nomadic warriors who have fought and lost the battle to control what were once their lands. Although defeated, they are a proud people who hate the Ghothars but have been forced to accept their dominance. They look upon the Ghothars as fools who have no understanding of how to use the land that they have seized.
To many Elsari, ordinary Ghothar villagers are harmless and in many ways victims of their ignorant masters. They trade and interact with poor Ghothars on a regular basis. They also respect the warrior creed of the Ghothars, seeing their fighting men and women as formidable foes.
The Elsari have come to understand that they are vital to the survival of the Ghothars, as they are the most effective cattle drovers and herders in the kingdom. They know where the grazing lands are and can herd goats and livestock across long distances. In a hungry kingdom like Ghotharand, this is power. The Elsari demand respect from their masters and as the food situation deteriorates, the Ghothars might find that the Elsari have the last word.
The first Ghothar queens and kings who succeeded Ghoti were shocked to find how poor the land they had conquered was. They quickly learned that it was only suited to the nomadic Elsari, not the farming Ghothars. The Ghothar people who had crossed the ocean to reach the promised land had believed that they would own large estates with rich soil and ripe orchards.
In fact, the only wealth seemed to come from the Elsari themselves. Instead of allowing the conquered Elsari to continue their nomadic lifestyle, the Ghothars forced them to settle the lands and farm, hoping that the Elsari would be somehow better suited to cultivating the land. Predictably this ended in disaster and famine for the Elsari, who eventually defied the Ghothars and returned to their old lifestyles.
In order to enforce the new land decrees and to bring the defiant Elsari to heel, the Ghothars built a vast chain of stone fortresses. The expense bankrupted the kingdom for generations and the fortresses proved to be useless. They dominated barren, empty land and had to be resupplied from Khozan. Now these vast monuments of folly stand empty (or empty of the Ghothar soldiers that should have occupied them at least).
Now called the Fuulderhund or ‘Fool’s Fortresses’ by bitter and resentful Ghothars, they are sometimes used by the Elsari as shelters from sandstorms, sometimes by other, stranger folk and some Ghothar travellers report seeing strange light emanating from some Fuulderhund in the dark of the night.
Khozan is the capital of Ghotharand and is the seat of the arrogant and naive young king of the Ghothars, Roharradh. When the first Ghothars colonised the coastal lands, assuming they had seized bountiful territories, they established whaling settlements in a natural harbour that was given the Ghothar name storm shelter (Kho - Zahan, later just Khozan).
The fortress that overlooks Khozan, the seat of Roharradh’s power is known as Khotrandun, the Stormkeep. Ghothar Kings who have sat on the Seaward Throne, which looks back over the oceans to Ty’Zan, have claimed the wild northern seas that they look out on as their fiefdom.
However, the city of Khozan (it is, in reality a large town), sprawls below Khotrandun in a large arc along a bitterly cold windswept bay. Khozan is one of the few places in Ghotharand where food is in relatively plentiful supply. It is a place for mercenaries to gather and find work; as King Roharradh becomes increasingly desperate to solve his problems through war and intrigue, meaning that adventurers will always find work in Khozan.
House of Skalds
The first of the Ghothar Skalds and the father of both the Ghothar and Veskan peoples Svan-Hyrikson is venerated at the House of Skalds in Khozan. It was built by Ghoti and is among the oldest and most venerated places in all of Ghotharand. It sits on a cliff terrace beneath Khotrandun and resembles an ancient Ghotharic wooden longhouse with a stone fire pit at its heart and flowing murals around the walls that tell the story of the Ghothar people.
It is the home of the Skalds, Ghotharand’s story tellers and bards. The Skalds have little time or respect for most Ghothar kings and no time or respect for Roharradh. They keep their secrets closely hidden and present themselves to the world as little more than storytellers. The lord of the house, the Alsangemaster has a second role, beyond that of storyteller.
It was a role passed down from Ghoti, who knew that men were weak and men with power weaker still, but story and song were eternal; she gave the Alsangmasters the role of guiding and influencing kings for the good of the people.
The current Alsangmaster, Sodain Soerderson, knows that reasoning with Roharradh is useless, so instead he uses all methods at his disposal to keep unwanted or dangerous individuals away from the king.
Soederson is also a dragoon weavewalker, and is able to draw magic into the stories and legends he tells. It is in this way that he manages to exert power over the king, but Soederson’s enemies are conspiring against him, envious of the power he wields at court.
White Oak of Ghoti
The White Oak stands in the centre of Khozan; legend has it that it was a tree that Ghoti herself saw in a vision which inspired her to build the city of Khozan in its current location. The huge tree is ivory white and bare of leaves and many Ghothars have speculated that it died long ago. The Skalds believe otherwise and as a result it is protected by them.
The old Ghothar saga the Thurling Liir helps to explain the significance of the tree to the Skalds. ‘In the roots and the deep of Goti’s Oak lie many doors now firmly closed, the tree was born of the Keeper’s word and holds all things in place.’
Ghoti knew there was something special about the tree when she first saw it and quickly learned that it was no tree but a lock that kept many portals to other dimensions in place. She knew that protecting the tree was essential to keeping her people safe and keeping dimensional doors shut.
The tree rarely gives away its secrets, but to the Skalds who know how to see, there are hollows between the huge roots that form tunnels deep beneath the tree. These are watched closely by the Skalds who ensure that no one enters the tunnels and more importantly, that nothing leaves.
The Stone of Duty
Despite their many failings, the Ghothars are a proud warrior people and have crushed many enemies in battle, including Mordikhaan. It was after the Battle of the Crow River in the year 145 OTM (Our time of miseries), where the Khul’s Army was devastated by King Onharath the The Stone of Duty was taken as tribute by the victors. More accurately it could be said that the Khul’s generals left it behind, knowing that the Ghothars would be stupid enough to take it back to Khozan.
All Ghothar knights swear an oath of loyalty to the King before the stone and all Ghothar fight the fergun, a combat rite of passage. Sodain Soerderson, lord of the House of Skalds and his forebears see the stone as a curse on Khozan and something that were it not for the folly of kings would have been left behind in the wastes. They are not wrong; one by one, the kings of Ghotharand have been open to suggestion from the stone, which answers to the Khul in all ways and at all times. It takes a particularly strong mind to resist its power or to see it as anything other than a national treasure.
Ghothar Kings once saw the fortress of Enten as being the most important garrison in the kingdom. Khozan itself paled in comparison to the warriors of Enten during the Battle of the Crow River. It was from Enten that the Ghothar cavalry, riding under the colours of the lords of the city, the ‘old tan flag’, crushed the Khul’s forces as they tried to cross the Crow. Now the garrison town of Enten lives on the glories of the past but as each year passes it grows weaker and less able to defend against the Khul’s next onslaught. A force of just under five hundred riders now have a border of hundreds of miles to defend and the perennial problems of hunger and poverty whittle away at the morale of the Enten horse warriors each day. Sheer determination and stubbornness keep the Ghothars ready at the border. They are led by Aeltrund Aeorun, an old border ranger with a powerful hatred for the Khul. The Enten Ghothars believe another war with the Khul is imminent and that the feud with the Veskans is futile. They believe that the two nations should ally against the greater threat from the west.
The town of Cretl is the private fiefdom of the Jorndrik clan, who claim (though everyone does) a direct line of descent from Svan Hyrikson. The Jorndriks are evidence of the weakness of Roharradh as they have established what amounts to a rival court in Cretl where criticism of the king in Khozan is rife and verges on talk of open sedition. Earl Unthar Jorndrik, the patriarch of the family lacks the courage to seize the throne but his years of disloyalty and loose talk has encouraged his two sons Svarin and Anghal to plot against the king. They have grown impatient with their own father’s weaknesses and plan to overthrow him first, and from there march on Khozan.
Auga sits at the heart of the Ghothar dustlands, hundreds of miles from Khozan. It is a walled city with but one purpose; feeding the Ghothar people. Auga is the great grain store of Ghotharand, villages are forced to give up a tenth of their food during times of plenty and send it to Auga so that the nation may be fed during times of dearth. The empty barns and cold stores tell an alarming story however, and it is a story that the king is either not yet ready or willing to hear. Ghotharand is gradually sliding from hunger to famine.
Unlike the dungeons of Khozan, where petty and not so petty criminals are kept, Ffel was built to be the prison of the most serious threats to the crown. The lords of the Elsari were imprisoned here until they acceded to Ghothar demands. Roharradh’s forebears sent treacherous relatives and pretenders to the throne to Ffel until it could be decided what to do with them. At present, the master of the Ffel, Earl Savan Fforde is weighing up his options, he has heard of the seditious talk coming from the Jorndriks of Cretl, but he is also aware of the weakness of the king. Either party might be filling the prison cells of Ffel in the near future and Fforde will have to decide his loyalties. His fear is that Cretl will act first and seize the king, and at that point the kingdom will be plunged into a terrible civil war with Ffel at its very heart.
Perhaps the only real centre of prosperity along the northern coast of Ghotharand is Savik, where the last great Ghothar longships are moored. Earl Trava Sanjord is the master of Savik and the lord of the Red Banner, a powerful raiding fleet that operates beyond the control of the the king in Khozan. The Red Banner Sea Lords intercept and sink Mordikhaani ships at sea and seize merchant vessels that cross between northern Aestis and southern T’yzan. Roharradh hopes that the Trava will allow the fleet to be used for whatever plan Sorias Varren presents him with for the conquest of the east, but Trava has already heard about plans for war and will set sail for safer ports the moment that the first troops from Dran and Ghotharand start to march. Such is the weakness of the king that he has no loyal navy that he can command.
Holn is the tomb of the Ghothar Kings. Aruhvianism came to Ghotharand late and whilst most Ghothar kings accept the Keeper as a god, they are deeply wedded to the myths and sagas of Svan Hyrikson, which tell of soul’s journey deep into the earth, down the path of eternal tree roots into the endless dark. For this reason, Ghothar kings do not send their remains to Dancare to be buried, this is an Arclander tradition. Instead they go to Holn, where a deep cylindrical chamber, the Aeltrus, which resembles a vast tree root, plunges into the earth and its walls are lined with the ceremonial caskets of Ghothar royalty.
Janest is the main sea destination for food shipments from Veska, and it is the most cosmopolitan city in Ghotharand. It was where the Elsari-Ky, the only seafaring tribe of the Elsari once sailed from. Their small dhows and skiffs are still present in Janest’s harbours, as are the old Elsari stone buildings, but they are overshadowed by far larger Ghothar and Veskan ships. Janest’s waterfront is a key battleground between Ghothar and Veskan spymasters, with the Underkingdom agents a powerful presence.
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