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FREE PLAINS (County of)
Location: Continent of Brun, southwest of Alpha, on the western foothills of the Wyrmsteeth Range. NW
Area: 1,496 sq. mi. (3,875 sq. km.).
Languages: Alphatian, Heldannic.
Coinage: Alphatian Standard: crown (gp), mirror (sp), judge (cp); barter common.
Taxes: 20% income tax, collected yearly.
Government Type: County, member of the Kingdom of Alpha, member of the Norwold Confederacy.
Industries: Fishing, agriculture, herding (horse and cattle).
Important Figures: Allisa Patrician (Countess).
Flora and Fauna: The Free Plains, as the name implies, consist of grasslands, steppe and farmlands. The cold freshwater Dragon River, which cuts through the southern area of the dominion, is rich in fish, which is one of the main resources of the barony's economy. Game (both avians and mammals) is abundant in the plains, and the main problems come from the dragons and wyrm-like beasts living in the nearby Wyrmsteeth Mountains, and from the occasional otherworldly monstrosity coming out of Redhorn Barony to the north.
Further Reading: CM1 Test of the Warlords, previous almanacs.
Description by Adik de Chevas and Arcadius.
Even if Lady Allisa shares the same cultural background as her neighbour, Lord Brogahn, her dominion is somewhat different from the untamed and savage Khanate of Ublaat-nor. A small part of her populace are indeed nomadic herders like those found in Ublaat-nor, but the rest have been transformed by Lady Allisa's policy into sedentary village dwellers without taming their free-spirited will.
The Free Plains are just what their name implies: a broad region of grasslands, cultivated fields and lush pastures located between Ublaat-nor and the Wyrmsteeth Range. While the western soil shares many similarities with the terrain found throughout Ublaat-nor, and it is then used mainly to support herds of horses and cows and other cattle, the eastern lands are much more fertile, and cultivated fields dot the landscape especially near the banks of the Dragon River.
What is incredible about this region is the total absence of hills or vales, which are a common sight in this part of the Southern Marches. Except for the southern border with the Wyrmsteeth Range, where wooded foothills inhabited by wild beasts and shunned by human settlers abound, the whole country is basically a wide plain of grasslands, crisscrossed by affluent of the Dragon River and dotted by small ponds and groves. The Free Plains are so flat that in the clearest days of spring, the trained observer could even see the Great Bay's waters [some 50 miles distant from the northern border. Adik.] from the top of any tree inside the county, or so the people say. However, given its peculiar flatness, the Free Plains are also especially vulnerable to the strong icy winds that blow from the north during winter. Winter is in fact the deadliest time of year here [a common feature all around Norwold. Adik.], and few people remain outside in the fields during this season, save for the time needed to buy food and take new wood for the fireplace [the few nomadic herders either return to their wooden homes or migrate westwards before winter comes, finding shelter in the caves up the hills. Arcadius.].
The eastern area near the Dragon River is particularly rich in fish and this has made fishing the first source of food and revenue for the county, which trades all kinds of freshwater fish to the nearby lands of Ublaat-nor and Redhorn [it once maintained good trading relationships with Hopeland too, but since Lord Ernest Day's exile in AC 1016, every diplomatic contact has been cut with that dominion, which is now a protectorate of the Draconic Kingdom of Wyrmsteeth. Arcadius.]. Agriculture is the only other source that keeps the plainsmen fed, and no real exports exist to enrich this country, which maintains a low political profile in Norwold [although it has always answered King Ericall's orders, who in turn rewarded Lady Allisa's loyalty by awarding to the Free Plains the unlikely status of county in AC 1016. Adik.].
The plainsmen living in this county are primarily Heldanners, with a small percentage (about 20%) of Alphatian immigrants, who came from the north once the Chaosarchy of Redhorn was created back in AC 1012 and settled along the Dragon River. Before Lady Allisa's arrival, they all led a nomadic lifestyle similar to that of the inhabitants of Ublaat-nor, even though they did not share the proud Viaskodas' love for long travels and seasonal migrations. They were content to travel inside their lowlands, and when the winter came they retreated inside caves in the southern hills or in Ublaat-nor's hillocks. They were nothing more than a semi-nomadic group, made of different families linked by blood ties and common legends, and certainly had not the elaborate customs and long-standing traditions that made the nearby Viaskodas a veritable self-aware culture. However, they were strong-willed and determined to remain free, despite the adversities they had to fight with, chiefly among them the weather, the dragons and the feral beasts coming down from the Wyrmsteeth or out of the southern Wyrmwoods [the southern forest between the Free Plains and Hopeland. Arcadius.].
Lady Allisa succeeded in teaching these primitive Heldanners the modern ways, taking them from nomadism to a sedentary life that now revolves around agriculture and fishing. Some of them are still wandering herders, but they have more commodities now thanks to the knowledge imparted by their ruler [nothing impressive if compared to the farmers and ranchers living in Thyatis or in the Streel Plain, but decent enough for the wild lands of Norwold. Adik.]. What these plainsmen still retain from their old ways is their fierce character and their sense of honour, which bind them to honour their blood oaths and ties [something Lady Allisa greatly exploited to strengthen her rulership over these people and the Free Plains. Arcadius.]. The plainsmen can be tranquil, albeit a bit rough, in times of peace, but they are terrible foes and ruthless warriors in times of war, as the Thyatians and Qeodharans can testify.
Lady Allisa came to Norwold earlier than most of the lords ruling here nowadays, but before talking of her exploits in Norwold, some words must be spoken of her previous life to understand how a traditional Ethengar warrior like her changed her customs so radically.
When Allisa left her tribe in Ethengar in AC 985, she was just a young and rebellious youth who had angered the clan chieftain by refusing to become the last of his chosen wives. Disowned by her parents and cast out of her tribe, the Kaeruts, she was left only with her pony and some tools to wander the steppes. She spent the following months under the stars in the Sea of Grass, trying to enter the keshak and serve as personal guard to the Golden Khan. However, frustrated by the inability of her superiors to recognise her qualities [a common disease every young would-be hero inevitably catches sooner or later. Adik.], she finally decided to leave Ethengar and rode south. She had heard from some merchants that people were really free and could easily become famous heroes there, no matter their heritage, so she joined a caravan and headed for Thyatis.
There she immediately began looking for swift ways of becoming popular and showing everyone her fighting prowess, and she finally ended up in the arena of the Colosseum, fighting for fame. After a couple of years led as a gladiator, she decided to change her lifestyle and to undertake a different path, but found unable to leave her occupation. Unable to write and read Thyatian, she had in fact signed a contract that obliged her to fight in the arena till her elderly years, and the clever entrepreneur who owned her now used every means to protect his rights. So Allisa found herself in chains, obliged to fight not for honour or fame but to enrich a fat slaver and to survive. She was beaten many times by her owner and by the slave master because of her wild and fierce behaviour, and when she thought she would never be able to escape her prison, freedom came to her in an unexpected way.
She was bought by a Thyatian merchant, Adrian Patrician, who had seen her in the Colosseum and immediately liked her attitude. After the first difficult months, Adrian was able to win her trust and taught her to read and write the Thyatian language, surprising even Allisa for her capacities to learn quickly and well. He then took her with him in his travels around the Known World, to show her the variety and complexity of things existing outside her small world [and as she told me once, these voyages really made her wiser and aware of the ways of mankind. Arcadius.]. In the meantime, Allisa's respect for his master turned into affection and admiration, and when in AC 990 he finally gave her the long sought freedom, she instead chose to stay with him and boldly "offered" to marry him. Adrian Patrician was obviously in love with her, so he gladly "accepted" her proposal and the two married. They lived a happy life, but their joy was brief, since Adrian Patrician was reported lost at sea during one of his voyages to Alphatia in AC 992. Allisa took in her hands the deceased husband's affairs, but quickly discovered she was not as keen and capable as he was, and started losing hope in the future.
But again Fate played an important role in her life. In AC 993 Allisa came to Norwold to conclude new trading agreements and discovered King Ericall was giving away lands and noble titles to attract loyal followers. She immediately decided to abandon her old life and to become a landlord, realising one of Adrian's dreams, that of getting a title of nobility. Allisa chose the dominion based on the likeness to her homeland, and she swore she would turn these barbaric people into civilised men, to improve their life and to give them freedom, much like her husband had done with her. That's how the Barony of the Free Plains was founded.
It took Lady Allisa ten years to see the first results, but she was steady and patient and finally half of the population adopted the sedentary ways, becoming farmers and fishermen and settling in the wooden villages Allisa had created for them. However, they didn't forget their traditions and legends, as Allisa insisted in maintaining them. She also struggled hard to exploit the plainsmen's fierceness and courage and created a competent army of footmen and cavalry, which had many opportunities to show its value in the following years.
In AC 1002 she met Lord Ernest Day of Hopeland during a political meeting to seal a pact of mutual friendship and cooperation between the two countries [they shared the same problem, dragons, and wanted to join forces to fight off the threat coming from the Wyrmsteeth. Arcadius.]. It was during this meeting and particularly, as rumours say, in the joint expedition they made to the source of the Dragon River to hunt down a dangerous white wyrm that she fell deeply in love with Lord Day, both because of his courage, his educated manners and his tenderness [which probably reminded her of her lost husband. Adik.]. They soon developed a close relationship, although neither of the two ever showed [at least publicly. Adik.] more than a deep friendship towards the other.
During the Great War [AC 1005-1009. Ed.], Lady Allisa joined her forces with those of Lord Brogahn to stop and crush the Thyatian advance towards the Alphan Peninsula. It was during this military campaign that Lord Brogahn got to know Lady Allisa's inner strength and passion, becoming inevitably attracted by her [I myself have met Allisa many times, and I can testify that she has been gifted with an incredible force of will and a mesmerising charisma, despite her petite figure. Arcadius.]. However, the rough manners of Lord Brogahn never won Lady Allisa's heart, already conquered by Lord Day. Driven by his blind passion, Lord Brogahn went to confront Lord Day during a summer joust held by King Ericall at his court [many courtesans and Norwold lords still remember that afternoon, when the two fought honourably for the same woman. Arcadius.]. However, after duelling with him and losing, Lord Brogahn was so deeply impressed by Lord Day's honesty and chivalry that the two became good friends, even though both knew the feelings they felt for Lady Allisa [many also say that it was because of Lord Day's friendship towards Lord Brogahn that he never declared his love to Lady Allisa, to avoid hurting his friend's feelings. Adik.].
The years after the Great War were peaceful enough for the Free Plains, despite the occasional dragon or humanoid raid. And then in AC 1016 the Qeodharans invaded Norwold and the Black Duke threatened to destroy Ericall's kingdom. Lady Allisa and her two friends once again entered the war to defend their king, and Lady Allisa's troops [working with Lord Brogahn's horsemen and with the unpredictable diaboli of Redhorn. Adik.] were incredibly effective in protecting the Regent's Pass against the Black Duke's assaults, turning the tide of the war. Lady Allisa received the status of countess as a reward for her courage, but this didn't soothe her for the loss of her beloved Ernest Day, who was forced by the treaty with the vindictive dragons to abandon Norwold forever.
The Free Plains are nice to visit especially in spring, and we'd recommend you to take a tour of the eastern region, which is enchanting with all its streams and ponds rich of different birds and multi-coloured fish. Also interesting is the so-called Stone Tree, a big stone monument resembling a pine tree near the southern border that possesses magical properties [some say it was sent there from the sky by Wotan, while others insist it has been sculpted by the dragons. Adik.]. Apparently, whoever touches it during the first days of thaw is granted some kind of small wish, but it is difficult for the plainsmen to reach it because of the weather in those first days of spring and also because it is dangerously near the northern fringes of the Wyrmwoods.
The foothills of the Wyrmsteeth are terribly dangerous because of the wild beasts hunting there, but fortunately the dragons have stopped raiding the Free Plains ever since the Draconic Treaty of AC 1016. However, this doesn't mean they will leave you in peace if you tread on their soil, and some marauder dragons still prey on the cattle raised inside the Free Plains without fearing anything or anyone.
Another area to avoid is the Wyrmwoods, a great forest located south of the Free Plains, between the county and Hopeland. Strange beings are said to dwell in this dark forest, among which a clan of renegade elves that hunt down every stranger setting foot inside their home. Some rangers also report an ancient green dragon ruling over the area [hence the name of the forest. Adik.], and it seems she is actually in league with the elves, who obey her like dutiful, dangerous children.