Lying on the southwestern margins of civilisation, the Hold of the Sea Princes was never of great concern to the peoples and potentates of the central Flanaess. Since it descended into anarchy in 589 CY, the Hold has slipped even further from the notice of many. However, some among the wise have become concerned at the events unfolding in one small, seemingly unimportant corner of this troubled land. For centuries, the Duchy of Berghof existed in almost total obscurity, a minor province in a realm of petty princelings. Yet now, strange tidings come from this mountainous land that promise to thrust it into unexpected prominence.
Overview: The Duchy of Berghof lies in a broad, high vale embraced by the Hellfurnaces to the west and the low peaks of the Kamph Mountains to east. Its relatively high elevation ensures that temperatures in the Vale of Berghof are moderate, a welcome relief from the sweltering subtropical heat of the rest of the Hold. The cold, clear waters of Lake Spendlowe lie at the heart of the Vale. Marodin are known to inhabit the black depths of the lake, though they have little traffic with Berghof’s human inhabitants. The land rises gently from the lakeshore, sloping up through meadows and cleared fields to wooded foothills and the steeper mountain slopes.
The encircling ring of mountains is broken in only two places. To the north, the fast-flowing upper Hool River cuts a broad gap as it tumbles from Lake Spendlowe to the plains in a series of spectacular cataracts. In the southeast, the Pass of Adlerweg winds along the upper reaches of the Gann River, through the Kamphs and down to the shores of Jeklea Bay.
Given its location, attacks from giants and other mountain creatures are not uncommon. The neighbouring Hellfurnaces are a patchwork of fire giant fiefs, ruled by petty chiefs who often recruit lesser giants (hill giants, ogres and the occasional troll) and other local humanoids (hobgoblins, orcs and gnolls) into their armies. Usually, the giants are too embroiled with their ceaseless internecine warfare to trouble the lowlands much. However, tales of the devastation wreaked by giant raids in the past still strike fear into the hearts of Berghof’s populace. Firedrakes, red dragons and other fire-loving creatures haunt the higher Hellfurnaces, though their incursions into the lowlands are even rarer than those of the giants.
Given these threats, it is little wonder that the people of Berghof have tended to cluster together into fortified villages, surrounded by fields and grazing pastures, with isolated farmsteads being all but unknown. The Vale’s chief settlement is the small town of Kusnir on the shores of Lake Spendlowe. However, even these settlements cannot guarantee safety and security, as the fate of the village of Gannaway attests. In 578 CY, its populace was slaughtered by a gnoll warband. The village remains a haunted ruin to this day.
Recent History: When the assassins of the Scarlet Brotherhood struck at the Sea Princes in 584 CY, Jurav VI, the last duke of Berghof, was among the first to fall. His fief fared somewhat better, however, in the invasion that followed. Berghof’s defensible position made it a refuge of last resort for the scattered Holder resistance. Though the Brotherhood managed to seize Kusnir, their forces never managed to crush the rebels that took refuge in the surrounding mountains.
In 589 CY, the Scarlet Brotherhood’s Herdsmen inexplicably turned on each other, throwing the Hold into chaos. The rebels were quick to take advantage, swooping down from the mountains to butcher the hated occupiers. By early 591 CY, Kusnir became the rallying point for an army of emancipated Olman and Touv slaves, originally imported by the Brotherhood from the jungles of Hepmonaland. A charismatic Touv named Utavo the Wise emerged as the leader of this slave army. The Scarlet Brotherhood responded by sending a host under Herdsman Krevaradan to crush the slaves. In Growfest of 591 CY, Krevaradan’s forces, spearheaded by a half-dozen gelugons, stormed Kusnir, slaughtering all that stood against them. Utavo and five score of his followers fled into the Kamph Mountains via the Pass of Adlerweg.
However, Utavo wreaked horrific vengeance on Krevaradan and his men when he returned to Kusnir a month later. Tales of the massacre are confused even now. Fiends apparently burst from the bodies of captured slaves and began slaughtering all around them. After Brother Krevaradan was ripped limb from limb, his men broke and fled, only to fall prey to Utavo’s men, lying in wait around the town. Weeks later, a few survivors, more dead than alive, straggled into the encampment of the Brotherhood forces besieging Hokar to relate the tale of the terrible bloodshed to the outside world.
Berghof Today: Since the Kusnir Massacre, Berghof has been Utavo’s private domain. The Brotherhood has made a few tentative efforts to probe his defences, but the complete loss of three of the four reconnaissance forces has dissuaded them from any further attempts.
Utavo has made Kusnir his base, rebuilding the devastated town to house his followers. Strangely, though Utavo is Touv, he has ordered the town to be built along strictly Suel lines, putting to death any who defy his decrees. Temples and shrines are raised to many Touv and Olman gods, most notably Meynok, the Touv god of serpents, poison, discord and darkness, Vara, the Touv demigoddess of nightmares and fear and Mictlantecuhtli, the Olman god of death. Utavo himself, however, is said to frequent a large chapel devoted to Syrul, the Suel goddess of deceit, treachery and false promises. The worship of these dark gods is apparently encouraged, as are the bloody sacrifices made to propriate them, while worship of less baneful deities is brutally suppressed.
Many have noted the marked change in the Touv leader’s character. Whereas before the fall of Kusnir, Utavo was revered and respected by his followers for his gentle wisdom, stolid dignity and quiet authority, since his return from the mountains, Utavo’s reign has been nothing short of despotic. Some have blamed this transformation on the jewelled gauntlet that Utavo wears constantly on his left hand. More than one unfortunate victim has met their death with its black leather closed around their throat.
Utavo has brutally eliminated any who dare to defy him. Among his victims are many of his oldest companions, several of whom attempted a coup against his rule in early 592 CY. The uprising was brutally suppressed by Utavo’s fanatically loyal bodyguard, the Utanu. This band of young Olman and Touv warriors, some barely out of boyhood, serve their master unquestioningly, and are responsible for many of the tales of bloody atrocities that trickle out of Berghof. Said to possess fetishes that render them invulnerable, they appear to be completely without fear. The Utanu form the core of an army of some 500 Olman and Touv warriors. Though armed with a motley mixture of native and looted weapons and armour, their fanatical devotion to their leader makes them a force to be reckoned with. An unknown number of Nagaul and other fiends bolster this host, striking terror into the hearts of Utavo’s foes.
The newcomers have largely enslaved Berghof’s small native population. The natives are forced to work the fields and fish the lake to feed their new masters. When the local populace proved too small to produce the required crops, Utavo ordered slave-taking raids into the lowlands to make up the shortfall. With savage irony, the army of emancipated slaves have themselves become slavers. Small bands of native Holders have fled into the mountains, making common cause with handfuls of Olman and Touv who oppose Utavo’s tyrannical rule. Starved of arms and resources however, they can do little more than subsist and evade capture by Utavo’s huntsmen.
Rumours and Whispers: Since his return, Utavo has taken a great interest in Lake Spendlowe. His men have recently begun trawling the lake with vast nets, far too large to catch any but the biggest fish. The Touv leader is also seeking magical means of plumbing the lake’s cold, black depths. The disappearance of several of Utavo’s men has been blamed on clashes with the marodin, a harbinger of further bloodshed to come, no doubt.
Utavo has posted a group of his most loyal Utanu warriors to ward the halls of Adlerweg Keep. It is unclear what threat he fears in the mountains. Some suspect that the Utanu have been sent to guard some great treasure or perhaps the secret source of Utavo’s power.
Utavo is searching for a warrior who, with a band of companions, recently waylaid a group of his men on the shores of Lake Spendlowe. Some see this as being characteristic of Utavo’s paranoid nature, while others feel he attaches some significance to this warrior, believing him to be in the service of the Scarlet Brotherhood.