Burg of Volhof
One of the few towns within the interior of the northern Wyrm Steppes to have escaped the degradations of the Divine War on the region, the Burg of Volhof is a relatively prosperous trading town, which facilitates trade up and down the Steppe Way, whilst taking its share of the goods and profits along the way. Despite its relative stability, however, the Burg of Volhof has always lived in the shadow of Ymeris its neighbour to the east across the Black Water river, and its people forever live in fear that their Vampiric neighbours may start to extend their reach towards them, and make them slaves eternal.
The Burg of Volhof is run by a Burgomeister, a position which is held for a 5 year term, and to which any citizen of the Burg can stand to be elected to. Appointment of the Burgomeister is by a simple majority vote, which is conducted in the town square by a show of hands. This open system of voting has drawn criticism over the years, as it does allow for people to see exactly who is voting for whom, and therefore may drive efforts to sway elections by coercion or bribery of voters, but it has been the way of things for hundreds of years, and there has never been enough support for electoral reform. The Burgomeister has many duties that they are able to carry out under their own authority with the help of their staff, but for matters to do with foreign policy, trade negotiations and items or events deemed to be of significant import to the Burg, the Burgomeister has a Council that they both lead and report to, who votes on significant items as and when they occur. The Burgomeister’s Councillors are appointed each year by lot from amongst the citizenry. Theoretically, this means that the Burgomeister’s Council should change every year, but as there are no limits on how often someone can sit, a significant number of the same names of some of the Burg’s most influential citizens keep being selected each year, something which is annually declared to be the will of Gormallis, the town’s patron deity. The Burgomeister’s Council meets weekly, and they act as an advisory body for the Burgomeister when there is no business of import to be discussed, debated or voted upon.
In many respects, the Burg of Volhof’s proximity to the lands of the Midnight Court has created a dichotomy within the town which makes it both a joyous and a depressing place. The shadow of Ymeris lurking on the opposite bank of the Black Water drives Burghers to celebrate frequently and often – to celebrate life in all its joys whilst they can, but also to be fearful of omens and especially death and undeath. For example, when someone dies in the Burg, regardless of the cause or circumstances there body is taken to be cremated at the town’s temple of Gormallis almost instantly, with little or no ceremony, often without any attempts to gather the persons friends and relatives, even those who are resident in the town. This practice is fuelled by a deep fear that if death is allowed to linger in the town, it will draw the eyes of Ymeris' Vampires and make them more interested in the Burg, or that the corpse will be raised by one of them to do its bidding and potentially even by used to invite the Vampires into the town. The flip side of this practice is that once the cremation has been completed, plans will be made for a raucous party to be held in honour of the dead, to which everyone they have ever known, family, friend or casual acquaintance is invited, with even the lowliest of folk having massive wakes held in their honour. For particularly influential or well-known people, these wakes have even been known to pretty much shut down the entire town. These wakes are very much about celebrating life, rather than mourning and they are extravagant affairs full of feasting, music and dancing.
Demography and Population
The Burg of Volhof is a mixed race settlement, with a slight majority of Halflings, around 40% amongst its citizenry, with the rest being predominantly made up of Dwarves (20%) Humans (20%), Gnomes (10%) and various others (10%). Economically, the Burg of Volhof’s citizenry differ little to the demographic make up of similarly sized settlements, with the majority of people being in the low and medium income brackets, but with most of the wealth being concentrated amongst a handful of very wealthy citizens.
As it has never aspired to be a territorial power, the Burg of Volhof only lays claim on the portion of the Wyrm Steppes that makes up the footprint of the town and the land extending out from the town for a couple of miles to the north, south and west, which is used by Burghers as farmland and pasture. To the east, Volhof claims half of the bridge that spans the Black Water river.
The Burg maintains a standing military force of around 200 professional soldiers, who are well trained and drilled and who act in times of peace as the town’s guard and the attendants of the toll gates at the town’s western gate and on the bridge across the Black Water. The town’s historic nervousness about the proximity of Ymeris means that twice a year, all citizens between the ages of 18 and 50 are required to undertake a day of military exercises and drills, so that in a crisis they can act as a citizen militia to help bolster the town’s defences.
As a town that exists in sight of and often in the shadow of the perpetual twilight of the Desolation of Hissh to the east, it is not surprising that the town has a strong sense of adherence to Gormallis, the god of summer and the sun. For hundreds of years a temple to Gormallis has stood on the town square, opposite the Burgomeister’s residence and it is one of the main focal points of life and activity within the Burg. An enormous, ornate fire-pit has been constructed before the temple of Gormallis, and its fire is kept constantly burning, day and night in all weathers, and it is in this fire pit that the bodies of all those who die in the town are cremated. Many refer to this fire as the ‘Ancestral Fire’ for the ashes of many hundreds of deceased Burghers still lie within the hearth, under the watchful, caring eye of Gormallis and his temple. Indeed, so strong is Volhof’s tie to Gormallis that a frequently used greetings and pleasantries in the town include ‘Gormallis keep you in his light’, ‘Gormallis light your way’ and ‘Gormallis shines on all’.
When it comes to its nearest neighbours within the Wyrm Steppes, the Burg of Volhof maintains cordial relations with all, a cornerstone of its foreign policy which allows for the wheels of trade and commerce to be adequately greased. The Burg has an especially strong relationship with the City-State of Ristan to the north and the nomadic tribes of the Taxidi whose migratory routes take them passed or near the town. Further afield, the Burg maintains cordial, trade based relationships with the Countship of Briolin in the far south-west of the Wyrm Steppes and with the Empire of Turelion, whose nearest province to the town, Ferio Province is located on the other side of the Dragons' Tears Mountains. The Burg’s most tenuous relationship is with its nearest neighbour to the east Ymeris. Whilst the Vampires of the Midnight Court are not openly hostile, given that the only bridge that spans the Black Water River is at Volhof, there has always been a sense within the town that should Ymeris wish to expand its borders to the west, then the Burg would be viewed as a strategic location that they would have to control, therefore putting the Burghers squarely in the firing line. Recent rumours of an expansionist sect, the Phobite Brood, gaining influence within the Midnight Court has made the situation even more tense, but for now the people of the Burg know that they cannot afford to be the instigators of any political storm or conflict and that they must keep the land passage and trade routes to Ymeris open to avoid giving the Vampires any excuse to move against them, and hope that if a storm comes that the Burg is able to weather it.
There is no formal school within the Burg of Volhof with most children being given a rudimentary education at home before going out to work or to be apprenticed to one from whom they can learn a trade as soon as they are able. However, for those with enough money to pay for their services, there is a private tutor, an Elven scholar named Oriel Marthiniol, who has been resident in the Burg and educating its wealthiest and most refined citizen for the past 400 years.
The Burg / Gateway to the Midnight Court
Like most places on Kelbonnar’s Material Plane, the Burg of Volhof makes use of the Imperial Coinage of the Empire of Turelion as its standard currency, but as they act as an important trading hub for the Taxidi people of the Wyrm Steppes, they have developed a supplementary currency comprising of small iron bars, cast to a set size and weight. The reason for this is that one of the few resources that the nomadic Taxidi cannot easily obtain from Steppes is metal for making tools and weapons, so in exchange for the furs and meat that they bring into the Burg, they are paid in iron, which they view as being far more valuable than gold. In addition, some, though not all of Volhof’s traders will accept and even exchange Imperial Coinage into Blood Orbs, small crystal containers which contain humanoid blood, which is the currency of the Vampires of Ymeris. Generally, Burghers will only trade in Blood Orbs if specifically requested and most transactions in the currency take place behind closed doors, as their use is seen as a sign of sympathy towards the Vampires to the east, who are mistrusted and feared by most of the Burg’s populace.
Once a month, the Burgomeister and their Council sit in a special day long session, where they act as the court for the town. Those with grievances can bring them to be presented before the court, with the accused also being invited to make their case at the same time. In these sessions, the Burgomeister acts as judge, with final authority over all matters and the Burgomeister’s Council acts as the jury. This judicial system means that people may have to wait for many months or even years to have any grievances that they have against their fellow citizens or outsiders heard.