The Last of the Free Lairds Legend Edit
In the centuries of Horizon occupation, colonization, and empire, the native populations of the Jadess Coast were largely displaced and disinherited. The strongest and most-organized of these peoples in the Middle Jadess were the Keldsi, druidic humans dwelling in the forests and health of the Ramalya Bay and its tributaries. For centuries the Horizon Empire pursued a policy of negotiating through trade in order to play for time. As the strength of Horizon increased in the Bay, it converted to systematic displacement and slaughter of the Celdsi. After the the seminal Battle of Rama's Well, the Horizon Legions of the Jadess decisively broke the back of Celdsi resistance in the bay area. In the Treaty of Rama's Well. The remaining Celdsi Lairds were taken captive and brought to the center of Horizon power, Waerd, where they continue to dwell in grand estate to the present day. The Celdsi minority were increasingly assimilated Horizon's polyglot imperial society. However, a handful of Lairds abrogated the Treaty of Rama's Well, escaped Horizon custody, escaping with their band of followers in the ancient timberland of the Grimwald. Here they lived as a large brigand society, and became nefarious highwaymen and pirates long the tributaries of Ramalya bay. Known as the Free Lairds, they were the last organized expression of Celdsi resistance. After nearly a century of guerilla warfare, the Watcher of Rosenwaeric set a large expeditionary force to root out and destroy the Free Lairds, by a direct assault on their nest in the Grimwald. This was prompted by a major caper, in which the Free Lairds attacked a large Horizon trade convoy passing through one of the major canals of the Bay, making off with most of its good and plunder. Legend has it that the location of the Nest of the Free Lairds was sold to the Watcher of Rosenwaeric by a disaffected son of one of the founding Free Lairds, by the name of Kwelydd. This son was promised an imperial pension and admission to the Order of the Lords Keldsi. This would include a palace in the city of Waerd, Horizon citizenship, as well as official acceptance into the nobility of the Horizon Empire. Kwelydd stipulated that all Lairds would be held for trial with the opportunity for their clansmen dwelling as imperial subjects to ransom them The Horizon forces stormed the Nest of the Free Lairds, taking it entirely by surprise. The captain leading the foray, operating under secret orders from the Watcher of Rosenwaeric, executed all captive Lairds and their scions, thereby annihilating any future Celdsi challenge to Horizon power.
The Legend of the Druid King Edit
Legend has it that Kwelydd, disenchanted by the treachery of the Watcher of Rosenwald and consumed by his own traitorous guilt, fled deep into the Grimwald where, by Horizon accounts, he killed himself. According to Keldsi legend, however, he sought the forgiveness of the old roving gods of the Keldsi, long banished from the land. The Dread Morrigan heard his prayer and answered his petitions. She returned to the Grimwold and lent him her own lasso by which to hang himself. However, as with all interactions with a Roving God, these interaction was double-edged. He hanged himself from an ancient weeping willow, which mocked him as he swung from its branches. It joined Morrigan in mocking him, even producing tears. He found that he could not suffocate, but could not release himself, so he is doomed to forever hang experiencing the sensation of choking. However, within the last two centuries a great druidic power has emerged within the Grimwold. A preternatural being has developed, having many lichelike characteristics, but being bound by druidiclike forces to the Grimwold, itself. This being, known among the Keldsi as the Druid King, has a supernatural command over the fauna and flora of the Grimwold. Legend has it that he has refashioned the dense tangle of the Grimold into a natural fortress-like maze that consumes any who enter without his leave and spawns/summons creatures to dwell safely within its confines. Here creatures considered dangerous, feral, and hunted among the civilized reaches of Arda. Through a combination of intensely cultivated loyalty and preternatural impulsion, the Druid King fashioned a formidable druidic army of monstrous flora and fauna. In the folklore of the Celdsi, the Druid King and Laird Gwelydd are one and the same. Laird Gwelydd swung from the Dread Morrigan's rope, until the weeping willow died. At this point, he was able to free himself from the tree, but not from the corruption of the rope. Over the centuries, Morrigan's rope had corrupted both Laird Gwelydd into a dark wraithlike spirit of the wood and the weeping willow into an evil-spirited creature, which infected the rest of the Grimwold with it's taint. With time, the denziens of the Grimwold seems to have assumed the same preternatural form as their master, being halfway between the living forces of druidism and the undead forces of necromancy.
The Ghost War Edit
It was about two centuries ago the freeholders of the heath on the border between the Grimwold and the powers of the Ramalya States began a shadow war against the Druid King for the very survival of their way of life. Whole families and villages disappeared overnight, kidnapped and dragged off by unknown means into the Grimwold, only to return later to their normal lives living somewhere between the living and the dead. These settlements would soon turn on their neighbors, unleashing senseless and grusome slaughter before retreating again into the Grimwold and taking up a life of banditry. The Free Laird's Nest was reoccupied and the Free Lairds refounded. In the local folklore, the Free Lairds claimed to be servants of the Druid King. The peoples of the Heath organized themselves into citizen militias to defend their way of life. It was not long before this continuous struggle was brought to the attention of the Ramalyan States. The lord of Rosenwaeric sent an army of mercenaries hired from the slums of Aramand to re-garrison the area, restablish control, and prosecute the war against these strange Ghostlike elements. These mercenaries were defeated, wholesale in their first engagement with the Free Lairds, coincidentally at Rama's Well. These forces were soon returned to action, both the living and the dead, again the Rosenwaerican forces sent in response. The Lord of Rosenwaeric soon committed the full force of his army to the fight, invading the Grimwold itself. Many Rosenwaerican forcers were drawn into the labrynthine reaches of the forest to be written off as lost, only to reemerge as Free Lairds, somewhere between the living and the dead. Finally, Lord Rosenberg ordered the wholesale slashing-and-burning of the Grimwold, itself. This escalated Free Laird attacks, but also unleashed the fury of the Druid King's army of Ghost Fauna. This Ghost Army pushed the Rosenwaerican forces out of the Health and into the Bay area altogether. At this time, Lord Rosenberg signed a temporary alliance with the woodland elves of Sylvestra far to the south, in order to bring in their sylvan warfare expertise to the matter. King Balarand came northward with a small contingent of Green Elfs and infiltrated the Grimwold and the very Nest of the Free Lairds itself, they were able to steal a valuable Celdsi druidic artifact from its midst, but quickly, and secretly returned to their woodland kingdom, refusing any further aid.
Apparently, the loss of this mysterious artifact was enough to calm the restless Grimwold. The Free Lairds no longer ventured forth to terrorize the settlements of the Heath, and the Ghost Fauna remained within the protective confines of the wood. The Druid King, presented himself at the edge of the wood, suing for peace, asking for the return of the artifact. Lord Rosenberg, himself, showed up to negociate with the creature. The negotiations proved difficult to initiate with neither willing to cross the boundary into the other's domain. At last, copse of trees that has been felled by Rosenberg's men was agreed as a spot of meeting. Even, then the Druid King would not emerge beyond the timberline and would not conduct negotiations in a closed space. Lord Rosenberg would not actually step foot into the copse for fear of the Druid King's power. Negotiations were conducted via shouting heralds across the glen. The Druid King demanded the return of his artifact, in return, he promised to confine his creatures to the Grimwold in perpetuity. Lord Rosenberg, having wisely asented to King Balarand taking possession of the Druid King's artifact as payment for his services in forcing a peace, honestly professed that returning it was beyond his power. He offered to summon King Balarand to the negotiations if the Druid King promised to disband the Free Lairds. The Druid King professed that doing so was beyond his power, as their presence was permanent fixture within the Grimwold. The Druid offered to summon the leaders of the Free Lairds to the meeting if Lord Rosenberg agreed to summon King Balarand. Both sides agreed to these terms.
When the peace talks reconvened. King Balarand, Lord Rosenberg, and the Dogue of the League of Free Cities attended. The Druid King appeared in the timberline, as promised with the captains of the Free Lairds, all lichlike in their appearance. The Free Lairds ventured beyond the timberline and joined the other great magnates under the great pavillion. The Druid King watched with glimmering eyes of a nightcat from the shadows of the forest. Lord Rosenberg has hoped to ensnare the Free Lairds, but it became quickly apparent that the services of the Magi Council of Lorica-Waerd would be required. The Free Lairds demanded a large ransom be paid for the release of their captives an hostages be given as guarantees of peace. These terms were readily granted, to be delivered at the next full moon. In order to create a chance to capture the Free Lairds in council. King Balarand insisted on keeping the relic as a permanent surety of peace. Events leading up the Council of the Full Moon were dramatic. In this time, the Free Lairds secretly infiltrated the depths of the woodland realm of Sylvestra with the aid of many of the ghostly creatures gifted to them by the Druid King. They located and attempted to seize the artifact, but their efforts were thwarted by King Balarand's clan. The Free Lairds captured were transported to Lorica-Waerd where they were interred at Watcher's Island and studied by the Magi Council in preparation for the coming council. In this time a sapling of some unknown accursed ghost flora from the Grimwold had been planted within Sylvestra, this began the slow, creeping infestation of Sylvestra of the same blight which afflicted the Grimwold. It brought with it the ghost fauna and flora which began to roam wild across the whole kingdom, unbinding the orderly druidic magic which bound the kingdom together with the ancient wood. Soon, reported sightings of the Druid King himself were circulating within Sylvestra and making it back to the ears of the Green Elf King and the magnates of the Ramalyan States. King Balarand broke off from the negotiations and returned home to investigate these reports. Lord Rosenberg, the Dogue, and handfull of Grand Magi attended the scheduled Full Moon Council, the Free Lairds also attended, but the Druid King was nowhere to be found. The Grand Magi sprang their trap and captured the Free Laird captains, spiriting them back to Watcher's Island to be held as captives against the Druid King's refusal to negotiate. Meanwhile, a full second front to the Ghost War developed within the Kingdom of Sylvestra with the Druid King fully assuming command of the Ghost Fauna and Flora armies there. Soon, the Whole Garden Kingdom was rent by war, the very druidic magic, holding it together beginning to unravel.
In a show of support for their ally and in an attempt to capitalize on their capture of the Free Lairds, Lord Rosenberg ordered the slashing-and-burning of the Grimwold to continue. As expected, the Grimwold seemed to unleash it's pent up wrath and Ghost Fauna and Flora spilled from the forest. However, it was clear that it was largely denuded of its defense, as most of the forces were in Sylvestra aiding the Druid King in his bid far to the south. An alliance of Ramalyan Magnates committed their forces to a tough struggle with the preternatural denzins of the Grimwold and the slashing-and-burning continued at a frantic pace.
Simultaneously, King Balarand, made an attempt to sue for peace. This attempt was futile as the Druid King's agents successfully secured the artifact. However, shortly after, the Green Elven clans were able to seize and desecrate the original Weeping Willow that has been planted to start the infestation. At this point, the Druid King, satisfied in his aims retreated from Sylvesta spiriting away his ghost armies by the light of the new moon. The Garden Kingdom of Sylvesta was left desecrated, magically unbound, and in chaos. When the Druid King reinhabited the Grimwold and reoccupied it with his ghost armies, the forest was reinvigorated and jumped vigorously to its own defense. It began to once again draw in the Ramalyan forces into its labrynthine recesses and return them to their commanders as wraithlike scourges. At long last, The Druid King appeared on the fringes of the forest on last time. He sued for peace. The tired Ramalyan forces agreed to a 30 year truce and withdrew.
The Heath has been quiet and peaceful for three decades. The settlements rebuild, the fields replanted. The last of the great lords that negociated the peace is now past. The Grimwold has regrown, and it stirs restlessly again.