Thune: Age of Woe
A Traveler's Guide to Estelgard
A Traveler’s Guide to Estelgard: An Elven Perspective in the Age of Might
With our great mission before us, we elves of House Glanduil made the decision that learning as much about the region surrounding our humble settlement of Lithmírë would be in our best interests. As we continue to search for clues about the final resting place of Ral-Tannóch it became obvious to us that the clues to its location might be secreted away in one of the many settlements scattered about the lands formerly known as Tehrunoth. It is within this guide that myself and five of my companions made our way along the lands of the eastern coast of the Glaive Sea, across the Eastwall mountains, and down the coast of the Howling Sea to the east and recorded our findings, in order of what we encountered.
This smaller coastal town is as diverse in its makeup as we would find Ghuldahar but its citizens are much more integrated and friendly with each other, as befits a population crammed within the towering walls of this town. Commerce is less of the focus here, being second to a peaceful life of agriculture and fishing. It seems the people here are interested more in a quiet life, which makes it popular with halflings who enjoy the pastoral over urban life. The people here were helpful and warm, but their knowledge of the region largely lacking. Travel and worldliness are, apparently, the sorts of things the citizens of Brinwall are more than happy to do without.
Shrine of Illathoin
This small cloister of warriors lend their swords and axes to keeping order in the surrounding region, tackling threats too great for any one community to deal with. Recessed into some dark woods a ways off the road between Brinwall and Creekwater, our visit with this boisterous clan had us roped into their games of skill, their warrior tournaments, and even an excursion to put down an unruly clan of goblins that had gotten daring and wandered too far from their mountain homes. This cadre of humans and dwarves drink as hard as they fight and our visit with them took its toll both on our muscles and our livers.
Another small trading town that lies along the road between Harungard on the Howling Sea and the Ghuldahar on the Glaive Sea. This small walled riverside town on the prairie is often a stopping point for traders either finishing their trek from the Eastwall Mountains or preparing to begin it. As such, there is a large population of migrant porters who gladly accept an honest wage to assist merchants and other travelers in navigating the labyrinthine Eastwalls. Creekwater is a good town to get news from as far away as Harungrad, and the odd mixture of cultures seems less jarring than one would suspect. Still, the people here are largely oblivious to this land’s history and therefore were not a good source of information about ancient empires and their long-lost ruins.
Shrine of Magdar
In contrast with our visit with the battle-drunks of the Shrine of Illathoin, the Shrine of Magdar—manned almost entirely by goliaths—was stoic and somber. Perched upon some high, irregularly-shaped hills half a day’s trek from the eastern shores of the Glaive Sea, the shrine consists of two thick stone towers—each one a tribute to the two moons—and a modest temple. As befits the wolf-god of wanderers and hunters, most of the goliath sentinels here camp outside and their ranks constantly refreshed with new tribal members every few years as their sitting fellows return from this pilgrimage to their respective mountain tribes in the Wintercairn Peaks.
There is a great feeling of obligation here among the goliaths and their human fellows who also follow the wolf-god, as if silently dedicating themselves to standing watch over some great treasure or performing some somber sacred duty. At times they can be persuaded to assist the followers of Illathoin in cutting down some threat or another but they largely keep to their shrine.
There was little we could glean from the goliaths themselves, who seem to have a rather dim view of elves and feel they are too fragile and delicate. Being of House Glanduil, we could relate to mountain life more than most elves, but our similarities ended there. They are a warrior people while we are a studious one—our only relatable points were our mutual proclivities for solitude. We took the hint for what it was.
One of the great cities of Estelgard, Ghuldahar is easily its largest. Crowning the northernmost tip of the Glaive Sea, it is a city of harbors and trade—a gateway of commerce between Estelgard and the lands of the south. Its glittering harbor is crowded with ships flying the colors of the mighty Iron Kingdoms to lands as distant as Iunu and Nhog. Despite its wealthy facades, Ghuldahar is a city with a seedy underbelly. While a monarch sits upon its throne, the power of the merchant houses here are an open secret, and it’s easy to see how the city bends knee more to their interests than that of the king. So long as the king’s interests align with their own, it seems the merchant houses allow him his fiction of rulership.
There is more than just commerce here—the Imperium Nonus maintains a small stronghold here and the Temple District shows a side of the city beyond the utilitarian, with beautiful if modest sanctums dedicated to the gods most venerated in this northern land. On the more nefarious side, there are a number of thieves guilds and even whisper of an ages-old guild of assassins known only as the Glittering Veil, who are rumored to serve the snake goddess Nyssia and are said to leave gold coins bearing her visage on the eyes of their victims. The various races that come to this city don’t appear to intermingle as much as such a diverse metropolis would suggest. The dwarves, elves, halflings, and men from places like Malag Kul or Bryn Jaldar and others segregate themselves into their own wards. There are also rumors of merchants that traffick in hidden markets with the forced labor of others, be they prisoners or captured unfortunates, which might explain why ships from Nhog and Iunu might lie quietly in the harbor.
Shrine of Nyssia
Situated on a crossroads between a north-south highway and an east-west one, this stone-and-timber shrine is particularly secretive, as befits the serpent goddess. Attended to by a number of Nhogish men—so uncharacteristic to see the dusky-skinned humans so far north!—the shrine is a well-known stopping point for buying hard-to-find herbs, alchemical reagants, and spell components from more exotic lands. The priests of Nyssia maintain a small encampment of tents outside the shrine which travelers can stay at for free for a single night. No one other than proven worshippers of the Serpent Goddess are allowed inside the shrine proper.
Shrine of Baelanor
This large shrine is more a fortress than a religious order. It is a cloister of firbolgs who use the shrine to celebrate the very things Baelanor stands for: artifice and craftsmanship. Here the firbolgs fashion large statues, architectural pieces, and masonry—all with an eye on immensity and artistry. The many dwarven kingdoms in the region, including Trostenhal, often trade with the firbolgs to fashion the stonework needed for the larger of the dwarven halls, well known for their immense vaulted ceilings and buttressed columns.
Unlike many of the other shrines, the firbolg shrine to the Stallion was not made for pilgrimages or extended visits, as befits a god who is concerned more with building more than praying. We maintained a small camp within the courtyard and spent the evenings in clipped conversation with the handful of dwarven visitors who were passing through.
Our stay here was short. The firbolgs are towering people of few words and we felt more like children underfoot than guests in their immense halls.
Shrine of Mythanather
The Shrine of Mythanather was one of the few instances where elves and humans seem to interact in harmony, united by their mutual desires to protect the natural world and mend the various blights that civilization at times inflicts upon it. The shrine was sparse, with only a humble statue dedicated to the Stag and small domed tower from which they perform their rites when the weather was hostile (and this close to the mountains, the weather is often just that). Much like the goliaths of Magdar, this shrine is largely only a temporary pilgrimage for those who serve the Stag, the very nature of his followers being one of ranging across vast tracts of wild frontier. Most of the elves here are of House Virion and this small shrine one of the more distant strongholds connected to their homeland in Caer Mora.
The shrine’s only permanent resident was the hierophant druid whose life purpose was managing the shrine and the lands around it. There were a number of men here who were neither ranger nor druid, but their tasks seemed limited to maintaining a modest garden here and hunting game. Still, it was a fine time to reconnect from some of our elven brethren from another house. The time since the schism might heal old wounds even in the long-lived elves.
This large mountain settlement is a major trading point between Harungrad, Ghuldahar, and Trostenhal. The laws here are strict, written by a long dynasty of steel-eyed liege lords and enforced by a zealous and loyal armed guard. Foundries fill the air with forge smoke and the rhythmic clangor of hammers and anvils. This is a town of industry with little sense of charity; everyone is expected to work and sloth and theft are punished with starvation and execution, respectively. The law is clear on larceny especially—the reasoning that something less severe like the removal of the offending hand just reduces the thief to a life of either slow starvation or a return to theft in order to survive—better to just execute thieves outright and leave their corpses swinging from the front gate as a reminder to others. The town’s nickname—Gallows Gate—is a fitting moniker.
There was a small elven section of town here, mostly refugees not of House Virion who had set up residence here where their cousins were unwelcoming elsewhere. The number of half-elves here was even more unsettling, the resident elves apparently having cut off obligations to their house and assimilating to human culture completely. Even with this integration, however, many are hostile to the elves and they are often the subjects of violence by the city’s watch. This leaves a lot of orphans in a city where the scant compassion of a concept like an orphanage is completely alien to this city.
This small dwarven stronghold was the northernmost point to which we traveled. The trek from Dagonaar was steep and treacherous, climbing into the highest reaches of the Eastwall mountains. Rather than completely burying themselves in the heart of the mountain, Trostenal is a comprised of a number of mountain dwellings, small but well-fortified stronghold, and a number stone dome buildings.
The thinner air and frigid temperatures were rough on our group but seemed to suit the dwarves here just fine. They have secured a rather large fortune mining for rare ores in this inhospitable places and their defenses are nearly impregnable. Without any direct land route up from the deep valley the stronghold overlooks, the orcish hordes that roam that wilderness would have to take a long journey up through the Eastwalls by way of Dagonaar—an unlikely proposition given the large towns own formidable defenses.
Thane Trosten, Fifth of his Line of Clan Winterburden, is a prickly sort even for a dwarf. He seemed to have little patience for our presence in his modest kingdom. His long line of dealing with their orcish and goblin neighbors with his axe rather than diplomacy has made him particularly disinterested in hearing our audience. Elves were never welcome in Trostenhal before and apparently that policy is written in stone and rigid as cold as the thane’s own heart.
For our last destination, we traveled far to the east to Harungrad. Known as the City of Spires, Harungrad is cradled in a massive fjord rimmed with high jagged spires that often disappear into the low-hanging clouds of the sky above. Wedged between the eastern side of the Eastwall Mountains and the Howling Sea, Harungrad is not a city for the gentle or the thin-skinned. This is a city of sailors and warriors, more at home on the pitching deck of a ship than on the stable flatness of a city street. Unlike the many settlements of the inland Glaive Sea, Harungrad is largely populated by darogeth mariners and a sort of senate comprised entirely of darogeth run the city. While Ghuldahar has a diversity of people spanning the more civilized races of dwarves, elves, halflings, and humans; Harungrad tolerates those who don’t often find themselves falling under that banner—within the city you might find orcs and hobgoblins sharing a table at an inn. Or bugbears porting goods down a gangplank. Or kobolds and goblins sweeping the streets for coppers. There’s an uneasy peace here, mostly because the order is imposed by the explicit threats of violence that the darogeth indiscriminately rain down on those who violate this silent agreement. Despite this, very little actually violates the law here save for unchecked violence and overt theft (though the covert type is more than tolerated). Our time here was short before we headed back west through the dark passes to Lithmírë and we have decided that there would never be a need to return.