In the cold war between the orcish tribes and the empire of humanity, one city stands above the others as the bastion for humanity and the jewel of the crown of the Empire. That city is Keldersfort, and it is there that the oldest noble houses of the Imperial nations reside, their vast wealth and influence spreading across the continent. The twelve remaining noble houses of Keldersfort consider themselves the overall rulers of the Imperials and by proxy the vast majority of the human race on Eramar whether they know it or not. Though in the vast span of time the Imperials have existed several noble houses have moved and are no longer counted within the council, their opinions and connections still have a hefty weight for continental politics and trade.
Though once openly at war, now Keldersfort contents itself to fortify and protect itself and those cities within its home nation. Long has it been since any sizable orcish presence has set foot on the land for leagues around and Keldersfort is happy to maintain such a state of affairs. Naturally noble and prideful, the ruling council of the Imperials find neutral city states such as Rook in bad taste if not outright rude, and in the past have tried several times to sway Rook’s High Council to join the fold, only relenting once Rook’s cultural diversity reached a tipping point. As for more questionable cities such as Freygate, they are outright detested.
Due to their somewhat intolerant nature, Keldersfort is almost entirely populated with humans and those who can pass by unnoticed as such. It is not a stretch to judge the Imperial realms as bigoted and intolerant, keeping the other mortal races, dubbed ‘demihumans’ as second class citizens and occasionally as outright indentured slaves. Due to the importance placed upon hereditary lineage and societal position, a large number of humans find themselves facing similar prejudice simple based on their wealth or lack thereof, as well as lack of noble breeding. Some are lucky enough to escape such treatment via the employ of a robust noble house and indeed several pay capable servants and staff an impressive wage with which to essentially buy their place in society.
Understandably, half-orcs are practically nonexistent within the city or in fact any city within the empire. Those found to have orcish blood are usually exiled from the cities unless they are found to have been taking part in any action against the city. In such an event the individual is mutilated and marked as an orcish criminal and cast out if they’re lucky. The unlucky are summarily executed, often in the Carnivora for the entertainment of citizens.
Relations between the city states of the empire are as expected quite robust, though from its very nature a sizable amount of rivalry exists. Deals are often brokered and sundered in the grand schemes of the various houses, often harming the general populace more than the houses themselves. It’s the mark of a great, rather than good, noble house who can either conduct such scheme without notice, or who rise above it and are simply a better example for their peers. To call the noble houses as a whole corrupt would not only endanger the life of the speaker, but also be entirely correct. It is a rare few who can be said to be entirely without fault amongst the nobles and those who are are almost never in any position of real power.
Other cities find a usually beneficial trade agreement proposed towards them, unless their population is primarily comprised of ‘demihumans’. In such a case the city is often dealth with as a lesser being, a state many put up with due to the wealth such connections bring along with the negative treatment. Cities with a large orcish or half-orcish population receive no offers of trade from the Imperials, instead being more likely to have their trade routes destabilised, travellers harassed and visitors warned away. Several smaller towns and city-states have shrivelled and died in the past thanks to the interfering nature of the Imperials.
Though a great many noble houses exist within the empire, only twelve actually have residence in the capital and thus tend to lord their status over the others at political functions. However it’s not unheard of for the intermarriage between houses to drastically swing the fortunes and favours of a house, several having found that they are instead the lower ranking house after such a marriage. It is for this reason that the upper echelons of Imperial society are a veritable minefield for the unwary trying to either break in or mingle. Allies and enemies may switch over the course of an evening and words said in jest can haunt the speaker for years to come.
Of the houses in Keldersfort, three wield the greatest influence seen by the local populace. House Merkarr is the first, with the heraldry of a trio of coins argent, upon a field sable, deals with the provision and trade of foodstuffs within the capital, as well as supplying the local armies with arms and armour with which to ensure the populace are kept safe. However, due to recent negative ties to the Church of the Enlightened, the fortunes of House Merkarr seem to be slipping as the vulturous other houses circle them, exploiting the weaknesses of hearsay and rumour.
House Arennas, with the heraldry of a griffon passant or, upon a fiend chequy sable and gules, provides the capital with much of its soldiery and mercenary companies. It is common knowledge that the forces of House Arennas are loyal to a fault and highly skilled with their chosen weaponry. A great number of House Arennas are also highly religious and take up positions of command within the military structure, imparting their faith to those below them.
Lastly House Krail, their heraldry a boar passant or, upon a field azure, are colloquially named The Jacks. Neither the figurative Kings or Queens of Keldersfort, House Krail maintain their position by sheer breadth of influence and sphere of influence and expertise. Though a master of no particular area, they can call upon nearly any resource within the city due to no doubt owning at least some of it. Truly, the noble jacks of all trades. When information of other houses is sought, chances are the quickest method to barter for it involves a member of House Krail.
The capital, as expected of a large city, is a melting pot of religions and societal hierarchy. Significant differences can be found between each social strata, though as a whole the populace is usually religious with a variety of divine inspirations spreading between the layers. Though nobles often worship deities such as Abadar or other good aligned focuses, the poorer layers of ‘civilised’ society just as often worship more unsavoury entities. A multitude of shrines occupy the city, though as of late almost a full third of them have been repurposed by the relatively recent movement of the Church of Enlightenment.
No more than half a decade old, the religion led by the Church of Enlightenment espouses knowledge and the sanctity of the light above as a learning focus. With strong tenets of helping neighbours and contributing to the betterment of all, the poorer denizens of society value the religion for giving them a peace of mind and work ethic that strives to improve the lot of themselves and those around them. Most nobles find the religion quaint, being quite wealthy and unlikely to share it with anyone for no good reason, but a sizable membership of House Merkarr seems to be strangely invested with the movement, even financing and training a Paladin order, ‘The Enlightened’ to help spread the word.
Due to its size, the city has similar districts to Rook, though simply more of them. Of note to visitors is the Religosa district, the cultural heart of the city. It is here that the biggest shrines reside as well as the Royal Operatic House and a host of other entertainments and eateries. One of the most eye catching spectacles within the district is the Carnivora - a huge amphitheatre quartered into four arenas and tasked with gladiatorial bouts and tests of endurance for those pleasure of the crowds.
One aspect not often remarked upon is that nearly all the participants, or at least those not directly employed by the capital, are in fact effectively on death row. Most of the spectacles are highly lethal, and criminals sentenced to the Carnivora are given a specific trial for their death sentence - surviving it for the whole duration actively pardons the criminal. It is through this method that the crowds are always kept entertained and the heavily established Accounts and Charters Guild helps fill the city coffers with the excessive amount of betting available. Whole fortunes can be won or lost at the Carnivora, and several noble houses openly sponsor the place to draw in bigger crowds, importing rare and mystical creatures or simply supplying a sizable number of ‘voluntary’ demihumans to compete alongside the criminals in the trials.
Originally, Kelders was a small settlement formed by human explorers as a base for further exploration. The site was well situation, close to a plains that could be used for agriculture and forests for lumber and hunting. The ground was found to have excellent sources of various stones such as granite and, when deep enough, even marble. The main drawback to such a fortuitous location involved the local inhabitants - orcs.
Organized into several tribes, the orcs of the region were highly aggressive and territorial. With the encroachment of humans onto their ancestral lands, the response was predictably violent. Launching attacks almost incessantly, broken only by infighting between the tribes, the humans of Kelders had a hard time establishing a stronghold. Retreating in the face of such aggression, the humans sacrificed ground rapidly to preserve their available soldiers, making temporary settlements much further to the north from whence they had come.
It was at this point that the leader of the expedition, Iounus Kelder, sent out emissaries to nearby villages and towns, round up as large an army as he could muster. Over the course of several years, extensive training was given to these inductees and several smaller towns were created to act as a solid base. It is these settlements that eventually merged or grew to become additional cities of the Imperial nation, and this is the moment most historians agree the Imperials began to exist as an actual entity. Once the various regiments were deemed ready, the humans marched south once again in force, this time determined to take the land for themselves.
Over the last several years nothing had changed much for the orcs. Though the chieftains remembered the humans, they were unprepared for the ferocity and regimental training the humans returned with. In a series of overwhelming victories, several orcish tribes were utterly destroyed and the ruins of Kelders was reclaimed. Rapid work was undertaken to maximise the fortifications of the village, and rapid expansion and mining soon saw it receive the appellation ‘Keldersfort’. Though many of the orcish tribes understood the danger of this development, as well as the affront to their cultural lands, they were not as cohesive as the humans.
Launching attacks against Keldersfort, tribe after tribe was dashed upon the walls and killing grounds as the city developed and grew ever bigger. One survivor of such an attack was Guth’tar, a particularly pragmatic orc who not only survived, but realised that what the humans had done, so too could the orcs. Through a series of brutal fights and usurpations Guth’tar took control of several smaller tribes, forcing them together and punishing any lack of cooperation between them. Though it was a long term plan, eventually Guth’rak’s tribe was large enough to start defeating, and absorbing, some of the biggest tribes. With his dominion rapidly advanced, Guth’rak did something not many had done before him - he made a council of chieftains.
Though many constantly challenged him, sure of his weakness that he had not killed them, Guth’rak maintained control and drew upon each chieftain’s knowledge of those he had formerly ruled. Eventually the council began to understand his plans as not weakness, but a form of strength. Subdividing the massive numbers of orcs in to specialised ‘tribes’ of their own, each with an appropriately appointed chief, inter-tribal familiarity was forced and indeed enforced. This period of expansion and reconfiguration is known as the Guth’rak Cullings, as those who didn’t adapt were quickly disposed of.
Whilst this was developing, so was Keldersfort. With an extensive supply of materials and good land, the city was developed as a true bastion of humanity and figurehead of the fledgeling nation. As more and more smaller settlements joined the fold, those in charge of them capitalised on the resources available and joined keldersfort as a form of council. It is here that the first noble houses started to form, though they were not nobles at the time. Over decades of prosperity and growth the houses were gradually established and joined in leadership of Keldersfort.
Kelder himself was primarily a military man in the latter stages of his life, marshalling the armies of the Imperial nation with confidence and experience. The constant raids of the orcs had shifted from keldersfort to the smaller neighbouring settlements which were by far easier prospects to attack. In a series of raids over several months, the armies of keldersfort began to be stretched out to ensure a good coverage of their nation. It was when this was finally accomplished that Guth’rak launched his greatest, and final, attack. With Keldersfort lacking much of its army, but still possessing a great deal of fortification, Kelder knew his city could withstand a siege for more than enough time for reinforcements to arrive.
As the orcs cut off supply lines and began to ransack nearby agriculture, Kelder sent off for reinforcements. To his dismay however, it seemed the orcs were far more prepared than he had given them credit for. Each segment of his army that went to make its way back to the city was constantly harassed and mired down by guerilla attacks. Not only that, but each town left without a sizable contingent of soldiers was itself attacked and plundered for resources. It was a state of affairs that was to continue for many years.
This prompted rapid resupplies for the defenders of Keldersfort from their allies as the orcs began to fully entrench, creating villages of their own within sight of the great city and bracketing the supplies coming in. Though enough came through to ensure the city didn’t simply die out, Kelder knew that such a stalemate would be ruinous to his nation in the long term. As such, and against the advice from his court, he sent out for a parley with Guth’rak, intending to either come to an agreement to effectively co exist as a greater nation or to break the stalemate once and for all.
Agreeing to the meeting, Guth’rak was accompanied by his most powerful chieftains. Kelder was similarly attended by his most trusted Nobles. In a debate that lasted for nearly a full day, terms and argument were thrown at each side from the other until they agreed that no realistic compromise was to be reached. The two leaders agreed to settle the matter the way that warriors of their station should - single combat. Both were past their prime in the later years of middle age but still cut powerful figures in their various regalia and appropriately armed. Forgoing much ceremony, a ring was created and the two fought to determine which side should have the rights for the various lands and supplies.
It would be easy to say that the fight was even, and that it lasted for several days. It would be easy to embellish and describe the pair as heroic combatants who fought with honour and prowess. However, most account from both sides agree this was not the case. In mere moments the fight was a mere brawl, the pair disarmed and struggling against each other upon the ground. Outmatched in physical strength and endurance, Kelder was gradually beaten into the ground. This was Guth’rak’s biggest mistake. Assuming that the pomposity and presentation of the humans blied a form of honor, Guth’rak stood triumphant over Kelder’s prostrate form, roaring his triumph. It was then that the nobles attacked, scything Guth’rak down with fusillade after fusillade of arrows and bolts.
Caught by surprise, the orcs scattered as their leader was cut down, rapidly making their way from the meeting. Kelder was rescued by the nobles that attended him, and is described as personally cutting off Guth’rak’s head to make sure of his ‘victory’. Though the underhanded nature of his victory is well documented, most still regard the act as acceptable, being against orcs even though they were the rightful, if such a term can be used, inheritors of the land. The removal of Guth’rak removed the most forceful personality in the orcish command structure. The power vacuum left behind caused the tribes to partially fracture with some chieftains loyal to the ideal of what Guth’rak was aiming to achieve, and other aiming to take control for themselves.
Due to the entrenched nature of the orcs, it took several crusades to fully oust all the nearby tribes from the conquered Imperial lands, with frequent retaliatory attacks leaving the orcs with at least several good emplacements from which to attack in the future. This state of affairs has maintained itself for generations upon generations, with the occasional raid from the orcs and a retaliatory smaller crusade to quash the tribe in question. With the passing of Kelder at the respectable age of 94, his descendants continue to be invested in city politics as various members of the noble houses and usually remain out of the public eye.
Understandably due to the formation of the city and its surrounding states, the people of the Imperial nation are highly xenophobic, taking their example of the orcs to extremes. Though some of the more progressive orcs have tried several times to approach the city with terms of truce, each has been unceremoniously cut down with one notable exception - Mhek’tar the Unbound, an orc who has approached Keldersfort on no less than three separate occasions and even been let within the walls to negotiative, walking away free, and most importantly alive, each time.
Regardless of his earnest efforts, the war still continues to this day in at least name only, with far less overt attacks from either side. Only time will tell if Keldersfort and the Imperial empire at large will ever reconcile with the orcs, though the outlook currently suggests something drastic would have to change before such an arrangement could truly take place.
Knights of Vallonde
A special order of knights were formed in Vallonde's honor and were called the Knights of Vallonde. They are hand picked and swear allegiance to the Fallen King and the ideals he held to heart. They are sent on a pilgrimage, often spanning an entire year before they may don the Tabbard of Vallonde and are officially accepted into the order. It is common knowledge that no man has honor, honesty, and loyalty beyond that of a Knight of Vallonde.
This code is of course sometimes at odds with the imperialistic nature of the ‘Realm’. While they are technically still subject to the king of each of the four kingdoms of men, they function largely autonomously and across the three borders of the four kingdoms.