Earldom of Fürstenkreis
The Earldom of Fürstenkreis is one of the constituent nations that makes up the broad area of the Mountain Principalities in the Felsspitze Mountains. Fürstenkreis is situated at the entrance to the Tafelland Valley, the largest valley in the Felsspitze Mountains, that cuts its way deep into the remote heart of the mountain range. Though the Earldom is prosperous, this prosperity comes at the expense of its neighbours further up the valley, whose access to trade is completely controlled by Fürstenkreis. This discontent of its neighbours, is couples with the ever present concern that the mountain tribes that regularly make incursions into the Earldom may become more and more confident, and attempt to engage in more than just raiding in Fürstenkreis.
The Earldom is controlled overall by the Earls of Fürstenkreis, who rule over the area as a hereditary family line. Interestingly, the ruling title of Fürstenkreis, Earl is treated in the nation as a gender neutral term, so the Earl could be a man or a woman, rather than female holders of the title having a slightly different version of the title. Because of the Earldom’s strategic position at the foot of the Tafelland Valley, and sharing a southern border with the holy city-state of Heilagur, the merchant class in the nation have a large amount of influence, and the richer merchant families have formed themselves into a Merchant’s Assembly, which is an informal body that is used to pressurise the Earls into giving the merchants political and economic concessions through which they can grow wealthier.
Fürstenkreis is not a nation known for its large exports of goods or raw materials, though as it is the lowest lying nation within the Tafelland Valley, it is able to have a much more productive and vibrant agricultural economy than the Barony of Hohensten and the Dukedom of Eisenbrook, which does give more scope for the production of a surplus of agricultural goods. Some of this surplus is traded north up the valley, but the Earldom’s main trade partner is Heilagur, to whom they send the majority of their exported food, in exchange for the goodwill, goods and services that the Pantheon of the North can provide them with. The other main source of natural resources in Fürstenkreis is, of course the wood that is sourced from the outskirts of the Dunklerwald Forest. The forest is a good source of timber, with the densely packed nature of the trees meaning that they grow tall and straight, making them ideal for the production of planks, and they are occasionally even exported to be the masts of ships built elsewhere in the Mountain Principalities. This timber is used primarily for internal consumption, but small amounts of it are exported to their nearest neighbours. However, given the fact that the Dunklerwald is a hotbed of raiding and criminal activity conducted by bandits and tribes that have descended from the flanking Felsspitze Mountains, the felling and processing of trees into timber can be a slow and dangerous process. The work parties and production facilities are frequently attacked by groups of Dratokarttin Goblins, Orcs and Lupines, who are keen to put the Fürstenkreisers off being too industrial in the production of lumber, which might potentially reduce the amount of cover that the forest provides for these tribes to launch their raids from. In addition, Fürstenkreis’ position at the foot of the Tafelland Valley means that it holds a monopoly on the trade moving up the valley to Hohensten and Eisenbrook, and there have been many complaints from the other two nations that Fürstenkreis is unfairly increasing import and export taxes on goods that are passing through in order to make a profit for itself and its strong merchant class.
Demography and Population
The majority of the population of Fürstenkreis is made up of Humans, Halflings and Dwarves. Indeed the Earldom has one of the largest populations of Dwarves in the Mountain Principalities, second only to the city-state of Freihofen to the north-east, which is a single species Dwarven community. The presence of so many Dwarves in Fürstenkreis does mean that there are few of the Dvärg cousins, who prefer not to live in close proximity to Dwarves. As those from the nations further up the Tafelland Valley have to pass through the Earldom if they wish to move down the valley and beyond, there is frequent traffic of other species through Fürstenkreis, including of the hardier Half-Orcs, Goliaths from the Dukedom of Eisenbrook, who occasionally pass through. Whereas the majority of the population of the Earldom maintain a mostly subsistence lifestyle, there are a large number of Fürstenkreisers that have made a comfortable, and occasionally a lavish living from engaging in the international trade activity that passes through the area. The family and close retainers of the Earls are also well known to be rather comfortably off.
As the Earldom’s immediate neighbour to the north, the Barony of Hohensten and neighbour to the south-east, the Barony of Zeiten are both quite aggressive in terms of their own national defence, and hopes of expansion, Fürstenkreis maintains a reasonably large standing army of nearly 10,000 troops, most of whom are committed to guarding the borders with Hohensten and Zeiten. The majority of the Earldom’s troops are stationed in the north of the country, not only because the border with Hohensten is larger, but also because there are many creatures that come down from the flanking mountains of the Tafelland Valley and attempt to settle, or at least set up raiding camps in the Dunklerwald Forest, which sits wholly within the territory of Fürstenkreis, but which does act as the northern border. Large numbers of Orcs, Lupines and Dratokarttin Goblins regularly try to establish themselves in the area so that they can prey on those travelling up the heavily used trade route up the Tafelland Valley. Fürstenkreis maintains a specialist force, as part of their standing army, known as Pioneers, who are specially trained to clear the road through the Dunklerwald, and are also trained in the art of forest warfare, to try and hold back the incursions of raiders, and keep the merchant caravans safe. Nevertheless, despite the existence of this force, big pushes to clear the forest have to be made every other year or so, to keep the road itself clear of vegetation, and on the whole Fürstenkreis does not police what goes on in the forest unless the situation is thought to be extremely serious. The Dunklerwald is too large, dense and wild for any coherent policing activity by the specialist Pioneers or other troops to have much of an effect on the activities of bandits and the like away from the main roadway.