The Sea Barons
The Turmoil Between Crowns
In the Common Year 437, His Celestial Transcendency, Nalif of the House of Rax, Overking of the Great Kingdom and Hetman of all the Aerdi, was murdered. The last in a line of congenital half-wits who had occupied the Throne of the Sun, he was little mourned by his subjects. However, his death marked the beginning of a civil war that tore apart the Great Kingdom and changed the face of the Flanaess forever. It was known as the Turmoil Between the Crowns.
Before Nalif’s blood had cooled, his cousin, Prince Ivid of Naelax, Herzog of the North Province, declared himself the rightful overking. Prince Galssonnan of Cranden, Herzog of the South Province, set himself in opposition to Ivid, denouncing him as a regicide and kinslayer, and famously declaring that Ivid would come to the throne only over his dead body. His words proved to be prophetic.
Bloody civil war erupted as Aerdy was sundered between the Naelax in the north – backed by the House of Torquann and the mighty hosts of the Church of Hextor – and the Crandens in the south, supported by the Houses of Rax, Garesteth and Darmen. The matter should never have been in doubt, but Galssonnan was a courtier rather than a general and although he could forge political alliances, he could not give them victory on the field of battle. Even then, Ivid’s forces were dwarfed by the manpower that Galssonen and his allies had at their command. However, in the Church Armies of Hextor, Ivid had the best trained and equipped fighting force in the Great Kingdom. The Herzog of the North also showed no qualms in supplementing his might with orc, gnoll and hobgoblin mercenaries from the Rakers.
So it was that after years of fighting, the fortunes of war had shifted in Ivid's favour. In early 446 CY, seeing which way the wind was blowing, Prince Malchim III, the Lord-Mayor of Rel Astra, switched the support of his city and that of House Garesteth to Ivid, paving the way for the Naelax armies to enter Rauxes unopposed. The halls of the Imperial Palace ran red with the blood of those Rax princelings who were too feeble or lack-witted to flee, as Ivid's Companion Guard roamed from room to room, slaying any who fell beneath their blades.
When Ivid finally entered the palace, he ordered the Throne of the Sun to be smashed and distributed to his soldiers for firewood. In its place, he set a new seat of power, one that would come synonymous with the rule of the Naelax overkings – the Malachite Throne.
The Malachite Throne
Known also as the Fiend-Seeing Throne, it was well named for it could open a portal to the very Hells themselves. Those who sat upon it were invulnerable to harm and gifted with true sight. However, use of such powers often came at the cost of the wielder’s sanity, as the ruinous reigns of the four overkings that sat upon it after Ivid I so clearly demonstrated.
The tale of the Malachite Throne’s origins is widely discussed among the learned. Led by fiendish allies, Ivid discovered a place of surpassing evil known as the Cauldron of Night. In its midst there stood a huge block of green malachite. Over the next three years, a coven of mage-artificers and priests of Hextor worked on the block, shaping it into a mighty throne and drawing upon the malign eldritch energies of the Cauldron to imbue it with its terrible powers.
Their work completed, Ivid’s servants bore the new-made artifact out of the Cauldron to begin its long procession to Rauxes. It is said that its first port of call was the ancient metropolis of Rel Astra, where the sight of it before the walls with Ivid seated upon it was enough to secure the city’ surrender and the defection of the House of Garesteth.
Though the tale of the making of the throne is known to many, the location of the Cauldron of Night remains a closely guarded secret to all but a bare handful of the most wicked and the most wise. Of those, the majority vanished along with the throne itself in the fall of Rauxes. The few that remain guard their secret close.
The Isles of the Sea Barons
One of the few who guard this terrible secret most closely is Basmajian Arras, Lord High Admiral of the Sea Barons and Baron of Asperd Isle. When Arras buried his dagger between the ribs of his predecessor, Sencho Foy, he knew he would inherit many cares along with the title of Lord High Admiral. And indeed, it has proven thus, troubles both internal and external marking his 13-year reign.
Beyond their home waters, the fleets of the Sea Barons have fought alongside vessels from the Solnor Compact, the North Kingdom, and even Ratik to contain the ghost ships of Delglath of Rinloru. To the south, the Barons have carried their ages-old feud into the waters of their blood-enemies, the Lords of the Isles, raiding south past the Duxchan Archipelago and making contact with the native peoples of the savage continent of Hepmonaland. And to the east, far across the vastness of the Solnor Ocean, new lands have been discovered through the sea-lore and daring of a new generation of Sea Baron captains, led by Baron Pamdarn of Fairisle and his able deputy and admiral, Yendrenn.
There has been strife within the Asperdi Isles also. The death of Baron Jamzeen of Oakenisle sparked a three-way power struggle between his triplet sons. Jaqiran, the middle boy, now holds his father’s title, while attempting to hunt down his younger brother Nandain, who leads a savage guerrilla insurgency by land and sea from the thick forests and hidden coves of Oakenisle’s backcountry. Jamair, the eldest of the three, vanished five years ago along with his vessel and its entire company after sailing into the teeth of a Solnor hurricane to escape capture by Jaqiran’s privateers.
On Leastisle, which was overrun and plundered by a loose alliance of army deserters, pirates and refugees fleeing the sack of Medegia during the Greyhawk Wars, years of savage in-fighting and murderous skulduggery finally produced a tyrant strong enough to bring a measure of order to the prevailing anarchy. Shinarva, known as the Sea Snake for her talents as a poisoner, and mistress of the ship of the same name, has trampled the bodies of many rivals to claim the title of Baroness of Leastisle. The Lord High Admiral reluctantly recognises her claim since her iron-fisted rule has turned the raiders and slavers of Leastisle outwards against the foes of the Sea Barons, rather than inwards.
However, of all of the troubles that Basmajian Arras inherited from his predecessor, none weighs so much on his mind as the problem of Tar Hill.
As far as everyone else on the Asperdi Isles is concerned, Tar Hill is a small peak in the northern part of Asperd Isle, which takes its name from the tar pits that cluster about the foot of its slopes. There are about a dozen of these lakes of thick resinous tar – the largest being almost a quarter of a mile across and several hundred feet deep. A tarry skin thick enough to support the weight of a man covers most of the surface, though here and there, noxious gases bubble up, forming weak spots that can give way, sucking the unwary down to a sticky suffocating death. The local inhabitants have harvested tar from the pits for centuries, using it to caulk their ships and making flaming ammunition for catapults. Their labour has turned up the bones of creatures who met their end in the pits in ages past, including the bones of gargantuan lizards, which the local bone merchants try to pawn off as dragon bone to the gullible rich.
A detachment of 100 elite soldiers of the Naval Phalanx, led by Captain-Adjutant Jerenann Velday, who once served as first officer aboard Basmajian’s own vessel, the Dawn Star, garrisons a small tower-house overlooking the tar pits. The soldiers are ostensibly there to protect the economically valuable tar pits from attack, but the more observant local tar harvesters have noticed that the soldiers are particularly careful to secure the entrance to a network of disused mineshafts running under Tar Hill.
And with good reason, for none of the locals curious or foolhardy enough to venture into the mines have ever returned. It is certain that had the unfortunates had even an inkling of what truly lurks beneath Tar Hill, none would have dared to enter the tunnels. The upper tunnels are winding and in many places in danger of collapse. Not all of the tunnels are man-made. Dangerous creatures roam the tunnels, devouring any they encounter; in this dreadful ecology, truly dreadful predators hunt xorn and earth elementals.
As if this were not dangerous enough, layer upon layers of lethal magical wards protect a route that winds some 600 feet beneath the surface, ending in a great portal that leads to the Cauldron of Night. Sited in an enormous cavern, it is a bowl of night-black stone that descends in great natural steps to a circular abyss that plunges to unknown depths beneath the Oerth. This stygian pit holds an unnatural darkness that is impervious to any manner of magic or divination. Indeed, the use of even the simplest dweomer can be perilous. The unshaped stone of the Cauldron’s walls radiates a palpable malignance that oppresses the soul and chills the soul of any who enter it, even those who revel in evil deeds. The least sound harshly echoes through the chamber and spoken words rebound mockingly on those that utter them.
Since Ivid was first led here a century and a half ago, mages and priests in the service of the Naelax overkings have come to craft artefacts of great power and woe to further their master’s tyrannical ends. Among the best known of these is the Spear of Sorrow, a seven-foot-long barbed spear shaped from the black stone of the Cauldron by Karoolk, last Court Archmage of Ivid V. The spear was last seen in the hands of General Kalreth of Permanence, the man who crushed the army of Osson of Almor and meted out the overking’s vengeance on the See of Medegia, leaving it the devastated sword land it is today. Mercifully, both Kalreth and the Spear vanished at the time of Rauxes’ fall and it is thought (and hoped) that the general was lost along with his master, Ivid V, in whatever disaster overcame the city.
The process of hewing and crafting the black stone of the Cauldron is perilous in the extreme, for the place seems to betray a spiteful capriciousness. Some who have come here, even though mighty in lore and power, have been annihilated by discharges of malign energy, swatted, as it were, like errant flies. Others whom the Cauldron has apparently favored were allowed to take that which they came for and leave with their lives. It is their fates, however, that reveals the true cruelty of the Cauldron, for invariably, what they take from it becomes their undoing, turning against them, driving them to insanity or suicide or inciting the murderous avarice of others. Few who come to the Cauldron of Night leave unscathed.
Basmajian Arras has learned some of this lore and all that he knows of the Cauldron from a magical tome that passes to the Lord High Admiral along with the rest of the regalia of the office. Utterly resistant to scrying or divination, only the anointed Lord High Admiral of the Asperdi Isles may read the nameless tome. Against all others, it defends its disquieting secrets between its covers of cold, midnight-black stone with potent magics and terrible curses.