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WOLKENBURG (County of)
Location: Continent of Brun, north of Landfall. NW
Area: 2,993 sq. mi. (7,750 sq. km.).
Population: Unknown; believed to be between 2,000 and 5,000 people.
Languages: Heldannic, Thyatian (Hattian dialect), Elvish (Shiye dialect).
Coinage: None; barter only.
Taxes: None. Inhabitants of the Finsterwald render whatever assistance they can to the count's forces whenever possible.
Government Type: Agglomeration of self-governing villages, under the protection of the count.
Industries: Hunting, crafts, subsistence agriculture.
Important Figures: Helmut Jaschke (Count).
Flora and Fauna: All manner of plant and animal life may be found here. The forests are home to many species of bear, bobcat, deer, fox, rodent, wolf, and birds. Rarer animals include decapuses, giant spiders, owlbears, and the occasional griffon as one approaches the Wyrmsteeth Mountains. Locals also know of tribes of goblins living in some of the hills in the north and west. Wolkenburg is home to a wide variety of trees and bushes, including maple, birch, poplar, elm, and evergreen towards the north and at higher altitudes. Where sunlight manages to break through the canopy, it is possible to find varieties of berry bushes (blackberry and raspberry seem to be the most common), as well as juniper. In the denser portions of the forest, it is possible to find strangle vines dangling from branches overhead, as well as archer bushes (but these are thankfully rare).
Coats of Arms: None.
Further Reading: Previous almanacs.
Description by Adik de Chevas and Arcadius.
Following the drive on the part of the Heldannic Knights to reconquer Heldland [in AC 1016. Ed.], a number of regions made it clear that they did not wish to be absorbed by the growing empire in their midst. Unlike most of the other rebellious regions, however, the people inhabiting the forest known locally as the Finsterwald were successful in their bid to remain independent. These people, under the leadership of a man named Helmut Jaschke, comprise the self-styled "County" of Wolkenburg. Curious, we made our way thence, to determine the truth in all the tales we had heard thus far. Don't ask how we entered the forest safely, and obtained the services of a guide; suffice it to say we did.
Wolkenburg is an untamed land-there are no proper roads, no estates or vast tracts of cleared land, no fortifications, and no large buildings of any sort. To the untrained eye, the vastness of the Finsterwald (literally, "dark forest"), the forest which comprises the entirety of this realm, is uninterrupted, yet to those who know the wilderness and its secrets, it is clear that Wolkenburg is very much inhabited by folk who are quite different from common woodland life. Amidst the seemingly endless stands of pine, maple, and evergreen-broken only by the occasional natural clearing, pond, or river-one can see well-hidden villages (comprising camouflaged sod huts with small herb and vegetable gardens), tree huts (which serve as lookout posts), and their stealthy inhabitants. Since they do not congregate in cities and towns, the people must by necessity spread themselves out thinly across their land, so as not to impose too great a burden on its resources (or so said our guide).
Although blanketed by a dense carpet of vegetation, Wolkenburg is not a featureless place. Within its bounds run many streams and rivers, as well as lakes which seem to be made of crystal-so clear they are to behold. The ground is also broken in many places by rocky outcroppings and hills, especially towards the Wyrmsteeth Mountains in the west.
Located inland, Wolkenburg is spared the dampness carried by the winds blowing along the coasts, and thus it also does not rain overmuch here-enough to maintain the balance of nature, but that is all. While it is fairly dry, however, Wolkenburg does suffer severe snowstorms in winter, as they blow down from the Wyrmsteeth Mountains with a vengeance.
The bulk of the people living here are of native Heldanner stock, fair-skinned and fair-haired folk who tend to venerate the pantheon of Immortals revered in the Northern Reaches. The clans living here, however, do not live the same lifestyle as their cousins elsewhere; instead of tilling the fields, the people here live with the land-hunting when there is need, and otherwise raising in small vegetable plots what they cannot gather. Nowhere did we see vast stretches of cleared land, or other conventional signs of habitation. This is emblematic of the fact that the people here live at a different pace-time is measured by the passing of the seasons and the migration paths of the animals, not according to a calendar. It is clear that the Heldanners here like it that way, too. A hospitable lot, but definitely not the trusting sort; our guide told us that the people here are slow to make friends or allies, but when they do, those bonds are made for life, but they expect the same from others. Among these people, apparently, it is far worse to be a breaker of oaths and friendships, than to be a murderer or thief.
Aside from the Heldanners, there are also a small number of Hattians living here. Most of these were Heldannic Knights serving the order under Helmut, and who have continued serving their leader even now. The others are their families for the most part, although a small number of them are would-be adventurers and other hangers-on. These people seem to have adopted a similar lifestyle to that of the Heldanners. Finally, there is a small group of Shiye elves living here, though from their appearance they appear to be mercenaries in Helmut's employ. Still, they are a definite presence here, though they spend much of their time living amongst themselves. Although they were friendly enough to their comrades-in-arms, they were decidedly standoffish with us, as though they had had enough of the outside world, and did not want anything more to do with it.
Regardless of the background of the person, almost everyone we saw supported Helmut and his goal of keeping the Heldannic Knights out of the Finsterwald [some were little more than raving fanatics. Adik.], although few of the people we had met had seen him recently. It seems Helmut and his personal retinue travel round the Finsterwald regularly
Although the native Heldanners appear to have lived here a very long time, the true history of Wolkenburg stretches back only a couple of years, to AY 2012 [AC 1012. Ed.], when the bulk of what is now Heldland fell to the Heldannic Knights for the first time. As the knights marched on Oceansend (their ultimate goal), several battalions of soldiers fanned out into the countryside, obtaining the submission of the local clan chieftains. The region that was to become Wolkenburg was just such a place, and the knight who had been sent to ensure their loyalty was none other than Helmut Jaschke. Comprising no more than 50 warriors, Helmut and his men used their skills in warfare and their clerical powers to subdue the locals, who were led at the time by Geoffrey of Grunturm, who had re-established himself here since his ouster in Heldann proper. Geoffrey was forced to flee again, taking with him some of his top warriors; no one has heard from him since that time, though sightings are rumoured.
The subsequent months of occupation were tense, but Helmut maintained an uneasy peace, always ensuring that his men did not get out of line [some of his long-time companions call Helmut a true man of integrity. Adik.]. When the Heldannic Knights lost their clerical powers after falling out of favour with Vanya [AC 1014. Ed.], Helmut willingly surrendered to his former subjects, and ordered his men to do the same. Those who did not heed his orders perished. Over the next year, Helmut and his men remained in captivity, slowly learning something of the ways of the people they had come to conquer. It was about that time when the fallen knights' sympathies began to change, for the Heldanners did not treat them harshly; in fact, the prisoners helped tend crops, build and repair homes, and otherwise performed tasks which aided the community-this seems to be the way these Heldanners conduct wars, with captured enemies being placed in a sort of thralldom.
When the Heldannic Knights regained their clerical abilities, Helmut and his men did not, for they no longer followed Vanya. Thereafter, they have found a new faith of sorts-the protection of the Finsterwald, and of its unique inhabitants, whose way of life would likely be destroyed if the region fell under the sway of the Heldannic Order once more. The rest of the story should be known to most of our readers, for only last year [AC 1017. Ed.] was an expeditionary force sent here to reassert control over the people of the Finsterwald, only to be repulsed by Helmut and his men. Although he has won the field for now, it is uncertain how well Helmut and his people would fare, should their enemies direct their full might against them. In the meantime, the former enemy of the Heldanners seems to have won their acceptance-even their admiration-as a warrior, and has become one of them as a result.
The Finsterwald is truly a nature-lover's paradise! Rugged mountains, breathtaking views of forested valleys, and lush vegetation everywhere one looks-truly this place is the very symbol of nature's vitality. Were it not for the hostilities at this time, we would not hesitate in recommending a visit to this place as a way of seeing what nature was meant to be.
While the Finsterwald is no more dangerous than any other large forest in the north, one should always avoid straying too close to the Wyrmsteeth Mountains, whose draconic inhabitants tend to take a rather dim view of trespassers. Also, it should be self-explanatory that the eastern reaches of the forest, which have seen some fighting in recent months, should also be avoided.
Finally, somewhere in the depths of the forest lies what would have become the administrative centre of a Heldannic province-Wolkenburg Castle itself. The castle was never finished (the knights had lost their powers, and thus their control, over much of the land before construction had finished), and a road connecting it with the other Heldannic dominions was never constructed, but it remains. Some say it is a secret hideout for Helmut and his men; others (when Helmut's more vocal supporters are not present) say it is where Helmut really goes when he patrols, where all sorts of foul plots lie waiting to be hatched-including the betrayal of the Heldanners by their erstwhile protector. Regardless of what the truth may be, the castle is certainly well hidden (its location never having been revealed to the Heldannic authorities-there had not been time for that, it seems), and it would be folly to seek it out.