Proper Name: Stonehold
Ruler: His Most Grim and Terrible Might, Rhelt Sevvord I, Master of Stonehold (CE male human Ftr20+)
Government: Independent feudal monarchy with hereditary rulership, governing four ataman nobles (ruling from the towns) and four nomadic tribal chieftains, with the standing army commanded by the rhelt (king); current rhelt is charismatic and has near-dictatorial powers
Major Towns: Bastro (pop. 1,700), Kelten (pop. 2,800), Purmill (pop. 1,900), Vlekstaad (pop. 2,200 before being burned, now 700)
Provinces: Territories controlled by four atamans and four great chieftains
Resources: Furs, walrus ivory, silver, gems (I)
Coinage: Giftring (gp), halefist (sp), grimfist (cp); much looted coinage from Tenh is currently used here
Population: 55,000—Human 96% (FS), Orc 2%, Dwarf 1%, Other 1%
Languages: Flan dialects, Common, Cold Tongue
Alignments: CE, CN, N
Religions: Erythnul, Syrul, Beltar, Beory, Obad-Hai
Enemies: Iuz, Frost/Ice/Snow Barbarians, the Pale, orcs in Griffs
Overview: A frigid climate and brutal regime combine to make Stonehold one of the harshest lands in all the Flanaess. Bounded to the west and north by the Icy Sea, Stonehold’s southern and eastern borders are formed by the Griffs and Corusks. The majority of Stoneholders live a seminomadic existence, moving to the northern tundra in summer and migrating south in the autumn. The remaining third or so of the population dwell in permanent settlements, mostly west of the Frozen River. Brute strength has long been the main virtue espoused by the people of this land, and treachery the byword of her leaders. All of the bordering nations are Stonehold’s enemies. Stonehold has no trade, her only export being war, and in this she excels.
The armies of Stonehold are comprised of “Fists”, war bands of about 250 fighters, of either infantry or cavalry. The bulk of heavy infantry is drawn from the settlements, while the tundra and forest dwellers provide most of the light infantry and cavalry. Rhelt Sevvord is the absolute master of these people, and his troops are expected to obey him without question. The punishment for disobedience is slow death, though the rhelt always rewards his loyal troops with plunder and captives. So far, Sevvord Redbeard has maintained his personal authority and become the most important figure in his nation’s history since Stonefist himself. Still, many feel that his time has passed, and wait for a leader who will be strong enough to challenge him.
History: Stonehold began as the Hold of Stonefist, a bandit chiefdom founded in the territory of the old Coltens Feodality. Vlek Col Vlekzed, called Stonefist, was a ruthless bandit who had been cast out from the Rovers of the Barrens for his vice and cruelty, and left to wander the fringes of his homeland for several years. Over that time, he gathered a large following of evil men, even sacking one of the old Bandit Kingdoms and carrying away most of its population. Vlek moved them beyond White Fanged Bay, where he established the fortified town of Vlekstaad. The Coltens were very uneasy with his presence in their land, but Vlek promised a truce and offered to negotiate with their leaders. As the Coltens traveled to the appointed site, they were ambushed and slaughtered by the followers of Stonefist. The remainder of the Coltens host was routed, and Vlek settled down to rule over the whole territory.
Outcasts from many nations were attracted by Stonefist’s infamy, and came to swell the ranks of his followers. Stonefist established the Mastership of the Hold as a semihereditary position, available only to his descendants. They were allowed to compete in the biannual Rite of Battle Fitness, which determined the rank of potential challengers to the Hold’s leaders. The overall winner was allowed to challenge the Master of the Hold, while the surviving losers would join the Fists, with those who did best in the battle-rite becoming chieftains and leaders of the war bands. The Coltens folk had no place in this hierarchy, and many fled to the Hraak Forest, or beyond the Big Seal Bay and the northern thrust of the Corusks to dwell in the Taival Tundra, in the land of the Ice Barbarians.
Those who could not flee remained in servitude to Stonefist and his descendants. Over the generations, however, they slowly emerged with a competing form of leadership, based on election by the warriors of a tribe or settlement. The Rite of Battle Fitness had caused the death of so many aspiring leaders that its proponents grew scarce. The Hold became divided between those who supported the traditions of Stonefist, and those who wished to see the restoration of the Coltens Feodality. There was enough support for both sides to threaten civil war. Sevvord Redbeard, the cunning Master of the Hold, fended off such an event by proposing his own form of government. He would take the title of rhelt, and both his position and those of his atamans would become hereditary. The chief men of each area would elect war leaders, though Sevvord also preserved the Rite of Battle Fitness as a trial to be overcome in order to serve in the rhelt’s standing army.
The Greyhawk Wars that brought hardship and ruin to so much of the Flanaess began here, in Stonehold. Brought into a brief alliance with the Suel barbarians by a deception of Iuz, the Fists turned south to attack their old enemies in Tenh. Though the Suel quickly withdrew from the false confederacy, the armies of Sevvord Redbeard pushed through Thunder Pass and captured the unprepared town of Calbut in Tenh. Within less than two weeks the capital of Tenh had fallen as well, and its duke fled to the County of Urnst. The rhelt of Stonehold was now overlord of Tenh, though under the supernatural control of Iuz, for a powerful and nearly undetectable charm had been placed on Sevvord. It remained unbroken for six years, during which time Stonehold continued to occupy Tenh, enslaving rather than slaughtering the populace.
Less than three years ago, during a period of Suel raids into Stonehold, the magical affliction of Sevvord Redbeard was ended. Without knowing why, he exploded in a rage that would have killed a lesser man. He gathered the Fists from across Tenh, having them first kill all the clerics of Iuz within their reach, and any locals they could quickly find; then, leaving only a rearguard to occupy Calbut, Nevond Nevnend, and the territory north of the Zumkend River, he returned in force to Stonehold. His army drove the barbarians back from Kelten and secured the pass, while he returned to Vlekstaad with his personal guard. The town was a smoking ruin, its inhabitants dead or fled away. The Suel barbarians he blamed for the attack left no survivors to describe the onslaught. A picked force of warriors pursued their trail into the lower Griffs, where it disappeared. He decided the Suel had obviously escaped through the mountains back to their homelands in Rhizia.
Rhelt Sevvord vows vengeance against the Suel, though his greatest hatred is for his former “ally,” Iuz. Vlekstaad is being rebuilt, refortified, and regarrisoned. Kelten and Purmill are more important in the affairs of Stonehold, especially in light of the ongoing warfare with the Suel barbarians. The occupation of Tenh is now over, too, except for Calbut and Nevond Nevnend. It may be that the great accomplishments of the first rhelt of Stonehold are finally at an end.
Conflicts and Intrigues: Revenge is widely sought against the northern barbarians for the burning of Vlekstaad, but Iuz’s forces are hated even more. Conspiracies are suspected between Iuz and several war band leaders to gain control of Stonehold. Murders of war band leaders (by their fellows) are on the rise.