The Highlander Castles
This set of five castles (originally six), with an additional tower populated by combat mages who could teleport without error to and from any castle in the line from here, was originally constructed to form a highly defensible fall-back line south of the Tessar. The value of these castles was amply demonstrated following the fall of Knurl and the western lands to the humanoids; their attempts to besiege these castles came to naught.
The military force within these castles was originally known as the Imperial Highlanders, since many were well-trained hillsmen used to skirmishes in the Blemu Hills and Rakers. They are tough, strong, exceptionally disciplined men with very high morale. They still call themselves Imperial Highlanders, but now they obey the dictates of no ruler other than the one they have chosen. They have, in effect, seceded from North Province. Their war leaders swore an oath of allegiance to Baron-General Shalaster, who commands them from his base at the southernmost castle.
Shalaster is a rarity; a powerful warrior of the House of Garasteth. Mocked for being over-large and unsuited to the arcane pursuits favored by that house, the princeling grew into an exceptionally strong youth and exchanged his landholdings south of Rinloru for those of a Torquann noble east of Knurl and across the Tessar. Now, Shalaster effectively controls all the lands in a strip 50 or so miles east from the castles.
Shalaster gained the backing of the Imperial Highlanders for several reasons. First, he is a war hero who has fought alongside them. Second, the highlanders are stubborn, proud men who don’t like being led by priests. Third, Shalaster has made it clear that he does not actively oppose Grenell. He is not attempting to subvert the Herzog, and he pays taxes and tithes at the same rates as he did post-war. Thus, the highlanders don’t believe they have mutinied. Finally, and this is the most important factor, Shalaster hates humanoids with a boiling, steel-hard, utterly uncompromising loathing. So do the highlanders. Forced to fight with orcs under the command of priests during the war against Nyrond, the highlander leaders despised every second of it, and they are delighted in their new leader.
Shalaster and the highlanders patrol the full length of the roads along the castles, although there is a long gap eastward to Greenkeep and beyond and orcs are beginning to cross in that region. Elsewhere, Shalaster has been very successful in keeping the orcs to the west back of the Tessar. This has gained him the support of local farming folk and local landholders as far as Stringen.
Indeed, the highlanders even raid into the Blemu Hills across the river, aided by magical scrying from a fine, very bright young diviner in Shalaster’s retinue and the trained wyverns which Shalaster and three of the highlander senior officers ride. Raids into the old Ripper Mines have yielded up some lost ores, a few magical items, and even a remnant of 45 dwarves who had been holed up, besieged by orcs and ogres, for about a dozen years. The dwarves eagerly joined Shalaster’s forces, and provide him with expert knowledge of the western hills.
One of Shalaster’s mages is known to have visited the rulers of Atirr, Kaport Bay, and possibly others in North Province for negotiations. These rulers, who do not favor Grenell’s dealings with the Bone March, are too dispersed to provide much in the way of mutual help, but a new