© Andy Staples, 1998-1999
This is an original work derived from materials published by Columbia Games in 1984, and whose trademarks and copyrights are currently in dispute between Columbia Games Inc and Kelestia Productions. No challenge is made to the rights of either company, nor is any judgement or opinion on the merits of either's case implicit or implied.
This article was the result of a fairly creative time for the so-called Vemionshire Working Group, which consisted of Patrick Nilsson, Anders Bersten, Peter Leitch and myself. During the course of 1998 we hatched on a plan to present Columbia Games with a ready-made background module to publish as part of their HârnWorld series. But by early 1999 we all became involved in other projects, and this one got shelved until Columbia Games pulished Minarsas as part of their HarnQuest series. The published version of Minarsas was a heavily re-worked and expanded version of a Vemionshire Working Group draft - which is why you'll find some things similar and others somewhat different in this article.
This particular article was my major contribution to the Vemionshire group, but it is a working draft, never completed, and never properly edited (and believe me, it needs editing). Aside from converting the article to HTML I haven't touched it since. Looking back at it I find some of the ideas trite, and some of them indifferent. But some have continued to be part of my p-Hârn ever since. Since it's just conceivable that someone might find it inspirational or even useful, I figure it's about time it got pulled out of the dim recesses of my hard drive...
Related files to this article are:
- Athelren - Vemionshire's county town. Co-written with Patrick Nilsson
- Nenda - The most northerly keep in Vemionshire. Co-written with Patrick Nilsson and Peter Leitch
- The Fenlanders - A little-known culture on the edge of Vemionshire. Written by Peter Leitch (hosted on Lythia.com
Vemion is the easternmost of Kaldor's seven shires, and the most isolated. Its northern boundary follows the Nephen and Guthe rivers. The gargun-infested south range of the Sorkin Mountains defines its eastern edge, while its interior borders face Oselshire, Thelshire and Balimshire. The further reaches of Vemionshire are wildernesses, largely comprising thickly wooded hills, and home only to barbarians, outlaws and gargun. Foresters rarely venture too deep into the hills, and patrols generally confine themselves to keeping the Silver Way relatively safe. Outland raids into the civilised lands may not be common, but are far from unknown. One of the most recent, a gargun swarm in the winter of 718, led to the burning of the church at Halaina Abbey.
The settled areas of the county lie within the Vemion Gap, a ten-league wide plain sweeping south from the Selene River into Thelshire. This area has a long and distinguished history, being home to a number of Jarin settlers who successfully resisted first Lythian invaders, then Lothrim's troops. Vemion breeds proud men, prone to speaking their minds in a manner as blunt as their accents. As a local proverb has it, "Tha can allus tell a Vemunshireman, but tha can't tell 'im much."
Sir Tulath Kaphin, the Sheriff of Vemionshire, is not only the King's representative and chief officer in the county; he is also widely rumoured to be his son. The king holds fourteen manors in Vemion, ten of them in Tishilan Hundred, in addition to Athelren, the county town. Tishilan is justly considered the gateway to the Vemion Gap. Declaen Caldeth, the Earl of Vemion, is the single largest landholder in the county, and one of the wealthiest men in Kaldor. He holds Minarsas Castle, Zoben Keep, and 31 manors in Vemionshire, mostly in Atressa and Lynnfana Hundreds. He holds a further 12 manors and Baseta Keep in distant Meselynshire, and is overlord of Kolorn Keep, for which the Bastunes owe him their fealty and the service of eight knights.
Vemion lies largely within the Laranian diocese of Pagostra, though the northern forest hundred of Thicesund nominally lies within the diocese of Serelind. There are three abbeys within the shire, two with associated chapter houses. Lyntord, near Minarsas, is one of the oldest abbeys in Kaldor, and was the original seat of the Rekela (bishop) of Pagostra when the diocese was founded c.160. It was handed over to the Rekela of Serelind when the episcopal seat was moved to Ledyne in 402.
The earliest known inhabitants of the Vemion Gap were Jarin tribesmen who settled the area around 1000BT. The tribes developed quickly thanks to close contact with the Khuzdul of Azadmere and the civilised Jarin who served them, for Azadmere was less introspective during the days of the Codominium. When the arrival of warlike Lythian tribes sparked the Atani Wars, the loyal Vemion Jarin and their lowland cousins in the Kald basin fought alongside the heavy Khuzdul infantry and Sindar skirmishers. But after the Battle of Sorrows, when King Aranath abdicated his claim to Hârn and the Khuzdul withdrew to their citadels in disgust, the Kald Jarin were left to fight alone. The Lythians had already reached the banks of the Osel when Aranath fled to Evael. Years of fighting could not prevent their steady progress northwards, and many of the Kald Jarin fled far away, into the remote fastnesses of the Jahl Mountains, where they founded Jara. Others sought refuge in Azadmere, whose kings welcomed them and gave them places to live among their human subjects.
Yet some fought on. While the Lythians gradually took the lowlands of the Kald Basin, marrying into and absorbing the indigenous Jarin, those in the Vemion Gap resisted. Aided by topography, isolation, and occasionally by the Khuzdul, the Vemion Jarin preserved a semblance of their culture and identity well into the period after Hârnic culture became established in the lowlands.
During the first century BT three Jarin states emerged in Vemion. The southernmost, Darlen, bore the brunt of the skirmishing with the lowlands, where the Hârnic tribes were slowly forming their own kingdoms. But by the first century TR the border raids had dwindled until they were little more than cattle- and sheep-stealing expeditions mounted by young bloods of both sides. Arwn flourished, protected from encroachment by Darlen and the dense, forested hills of the Valwood. The central gap is relatively fertile, and by the first century TR Arwn's lords were wealthy enough to begin building fortifications, often within the hill-forts their ancestors raised up. The earliest phases of Athelren, Minarsas, Zoben and Kyg date from this period.
In the north, the kingdom of Tanor straddled the river Selene. The southern reaches, like Arwn, developed mixed farming, but along the river and in the forests of Thicesund, fishing and hunting were more common.
The Foulspawn Wars
Lothrim's meteoric rise to power in the Chelna Gap alarmed the Kald nations, who began hastily building and reinforcing defences. But nothing could prepare them for the onslaught of Lothrim's terrible gargun nightfighters, secretly bred (or imported) for the Kald campaign and used for the first time in his invasions of Olokand and Merila in 113TR. The dreadful brutality of the gargun, and Lothrim's savage treatment of the royal families of the two kingdoms, whom he tortured and executed as entertainment for his troops, persuaded most of the defenceless lowland kingdoms they should quickly accede to his demands for tribute and fealty. Only on the eastern and northern fringes of the civilised lands did kings refuse Lothrim's demands.
The Foulspawner, realising he must consolidate his substantial gains in the Kald, withheld his armies, but allowed his gargun skirmishers free rein. Once more, Darlen endured the hardest fighting, though swarms of araki infested the wooded hills west of the river Kald, resisted by skirmishers from Arwn and Tanor.
In 115TR, in an episode of blackest treachery, Owain, Prince of Darlen, was lured to Zoben with the promise of Arwn's aid against Lothrim's raiders. Instead he met his death, and Ceorlan of Parlis, Prince of Arwn, proclaimed himself regent of Darlen. Ceorlan cared little for protecting Darlen's borders, stripping its resources to supply his own woodland skirmishers. Had Lothrim's attentions not turned obsessively towards his quest for the Penultimate Tome and away from further expansion, there is little doubt that Darlen would have perished. As it was, it barely survived. Many settlements were deserted, their fields and pastures left to be reclaimed by the wilderness.
Petty warlords built their own little principalities along the Kald from the ashes of Lothrim's empire, which collapsed after his execution by vengeful Khuzdul after the Battle of Sirion in 120TR. Arwn, lean and battle-hardened, but far from exhausted, began carving out a little empire of its own.
The Kingdom of Pagostra
Hain Parlis, Prince of Arwn, rapidly consolidated his hold on the Vemion Gap. With Darlen already under his control, he annexed the southern reaches of Tanor in 125TR, then turned his attentions to the culturally Hârnic kingdom of Kobe, south of Darlen, which had also managed to resist Lothrim's forces. During this time, the warlord Shala of Eish was carving out a kingdom around the ruins of Kelapyn-Anuz. Shala, the brutal leader of a vicious band of mercenaries, was rumoured to have served as one of Lothrim's lieutenants, and by the time he founded his kingdom of Kephria in 128TR the villages of Osel and Thel were beginning to turn to Arwn for help against him. In 137TR, Hain proclaimed himself King of Pagostra, master of all the lands between the Kald, Nephen, Selene and the Shomos rivers.
During the warm summers and gentle winters of the Years of Plenty, Pagostra prospered. Trade flourished with its neighbours, especially Chybisa and Serelind, and for a whole generation there was peace and prosperity in the in the seven kingdoms. The church of Larani had been growing steadily in eastern Hârn since the first century BT, and flourished in the fledging feudal culture of the seven kingdoms. By 160TR, there were sufficient adherents and priests to justify the formation of a diocese, and Hain sponsored the creation of an episcopal seat at Lyntord, an abbey his father had founded close to their ancestral home in Minarsas. Hain's nephew, Deormad of Parlis, formerly Suloran (Master of Archives) at Lyntord, became the first Rekela (Bishop) of Pagostra, with supreme spiritual authority throughout his uncle's realm. Hain was interred within the crypt beneath the abbey church when he died in 166TR.
But the years of plenty did not last, and famine came when the climate returned to normal. If life was hard in the seven kingdoms, it was harder still in the outlands where the barbarian tribes were forced to compete with renegade gargun. The sack of Hosat in 178TR was the rider on the storm of the Migration Wars. Kath, Taelda, Chelni and gargun harried the borders of the Kald kingdoms. Pagostra faced a new threat.
In 170TR, Omadis Greyspear led hundreds of Pagaelin tribesmen across the Anadel Highlands from their coastal villages on Cape Renda. The tribes settled around the headwaters of the Osel, below Telumar, but soon began to cast jealous eyes on the lowland kingdoms. In 180TR the Pagaelin began raiding northern Chybisa and south-central Pagostra, looting, killing and burning at will. Where the other tribes killed in their quest for food, the Pagaelin seemed almost gargun-like in their orgy of mayhem. Darlen, which had never fully recovered from the depredations of the Foulspawn Wars, could hold out no longer. Those who survived the gargun raids fled north towards Vemion, or east towards Thel, and left their fields and villages empty.
With his kingdom torn in two, Hain's heir, Orsin Parlis, realised he had little hope of preserving the remnants of his lands for long. In the autumn of 182TR, faced with another harsh winter and further raids, Orsin sent messengers to beg aid from King Medrik I of Serelind. Medrik, who inherited his kingdom on the death of his father Calsten in 162TR, had successfully defeated the eastern Taelda in the Battle of Noneth in 180TR. His victory was not without loss, for the Taelda over-ran the woods of northern Tanor, which had been part of Serelind since its inception in 142TR. But the presence of hostile, starving Taelda only just across the Selene from his ancestral homelands made Orsin's plight all the more desperate.
Realising Orsin's predicament, Medrik demanded fealty in return for his help. To sweeten the pill, Medrik offered Orsin lands around Kiban and the forests of northern Tanor to add to his own, if only he would rule them as Medrik's subject Earl, not king.
The Earldom of Pagostra
After the cold, hard winter of 182TR Orsin realised he had no alternative but to accept Medrik's conditions. As soon as he sent his acceptance, Serelindian soldiers arrived to bolster his own armies, and in summer 183TR Orsin and Medrik led a combined force to crush the Pagaelin at the Battle of Kobe. That evening on the battlefield, in the presence of the Rekelas of Pagostra and Serelind and the leading nobility of both kingdoms, Orsin knelt before Medrik, placed his clasped hands between the Serelindian's palms, and did him homage.
The two men continued their campaigns, and it was not until the following spring that Orsin formally offered his fealty and was invested as the first Earl of Pagostra, a title his descendants held until Fierth's victory in the Kaldoric Civil War. Torbet, third king of Kephria, was slain at Lareb Hill in battle with the High Kath who ravaged his western marches in 187TR. His heirs were mere children, and Kephria's nobles quickly supported Medrik's suggestion that he take control. Torbet's heirs were persuaded to waive their claims, and in 188TR Medrik ascended the throne of Kephria and proclaimed the kingdom of Kaldor, comprising the combined lands of Serelind, Pagostra and Kephria. Kaldor grew still further when Prince Brant, heir to the throne of Nurelia, disappeared from Olokand in 237TR. Kalabin, second king of Kaldor, defeated the native forces at the Battle of Olokand in 238TR, and absorbed Nurelia's lands into Kaldor, establishing a national territory which has persisted, relatively unchanged, to the present day.
The Kaldoric Civil War
For many years, the monarchs of the House of Tane had an iron grip on the reins of Kaldor. Although they generally remained popular among the peasants, Kalabin's descendants provoked increasing disquiet among Kaldor's noble families. Matters came to a head with the death of Maranos, sixth king of Kaldor, in 362TR. Maranos earned himself a reputation as the most greedy and grasping king Kaldor had ever known, and when Fierth of Qualdris staked his claim to the throne against Maranos' legitimate son, Aidrik, the Succession Council was split and the kingdom devolved into civil war.
Leowyn Parlis, 10th Earl of Pagostra, pledged his loyalty to Aidrik, and remained true through fifteen long years of war. But he shared a frontier with Fierth, and even within his own stronghold in Vemion, he had enemies. With the normal feudal ties severed (for they rested ultimately with the king), Athyn of Caldeth, Baron of Zoben, and Ederyn of Hirnen, Baron of Nenda, denounced Leowyn and declared for Fierth.
By 377TR, both sides were exhausted and Leowyn, with enemies on all fronts, had suffered more than most. The two forces gathered for a final bout close to Leowyn's keep at Kiban, but on the very eve of the battle Leowyn, tired and without hope, withdrew his troops into the keep and left Aidrik to face his rival without him.
His withdrawal availed him nothing. Fierth won a crushing victory, capturing and allegedly roasting Aidrik alive. Leowyn offered himself to the victor's mercy, but Fierth was in no mood to grant it. Leowyn and several of Aidrik's other supporters, including Baron Klunas of Olokand, were executed for treason and their lands confiscated. Athyn of Hernal, Baron of Bastune, had been one of Fierth's most loyal supporters during the war, and was well rewarded. To his own Honour of Bastune, he was given Leowyn's lands around Minarsas, and granted the title Earl of Vemion. Qywald of Dariune, Fierth's leading captain, was granted Leowyn's lands around Kiban and Kyg, and the title Earl of Balim.
But Fierth's paranoia would not allow him to leave such string new nobles unchecked for long. When Baron Megith of Athelren expressed disquiet at Fierth's corruption of the feudal institutions, he was quickly tried and executed for treason. Fierth kept Athelren for himself, for it stood between Minarsas and his own stronghold in Qualdris, and he garrisoned it with loyal Semethshiremen.
Although the brief reign of House Orgael is almost universally held as a time of near anarchy, it was during Uthred's reign that the Laranian church in Kaldor underwent massive reorganisation. The creation of the office of Serekela (Archbishop) of Kaldor in 405TR meant lands were transferred into his control from each of the four bishoprics, providing him with their revenues. Other abbeys and fiefs were transferred between the Rekela to balance their losses, although they kept their geographical jurisdiction over the spiritual wellbeing of laymen. It was at this time that the Rekela of Pagostra quit his seat at the ancient abbey of Lyntord, which was transferred into the administration of the Rekela of Serelind, and moved his headquarters to Brynd Abbey in Thelshire. Halaina Abbey, re-founded by the Caldeths of Zoben after the Migration Wars, became part of the new Serekela's lands.
But the barons were growing ever more restless. Uthred continued his father's domineering and corrupt policies. Maladan Hernal, who inherited his father's Earldom in 382TR, was among the ringleaders of a plot to slay the king. Just how they fulfilled their scheme is uncertain. Officially, Uthred was killed in a hunting accident in the woods near Sirendel, but the true story is still a mystery. Nevertheless, Uthred was killed, and Aidrik's son, also named Aidrik, was offered the crown. He took the name of Aidrik III to emphasise his father's legitimacy, and founded the House of Artane. Those who had been instrumental in his coronation fared well. Maladan was confirmed in his lands, as was Dariune. Arvan Meleken, Baron of Heru, was granted the old Orgael headquarters at Qualdris, and awarded the title Earl of Osel, while Herlan Elendsa became Earl of Olokand.
The overall effect of the Civil War and the restoration was to redefine the state of Kaldoric politics and government. The seven counties took their modern form at this time (the hundreds are far more ancient) and many of the leading noble houses of the present achieved their initial rise to power then. Vemion was again a unified political entity for the first time since the early domination of Arwn.
The Baronial Revolt
For nearly 200 years, the House of Artane ruled a relatively peaceful kingdom. Conciliation, compromise and subtle shifts of power between monarch and nobility ensured a stable platform for economic growth and kept the aristocratic families to busy to be disruptive. But in the latter part of the sixth century the Artane kings began drawing more power to themselves. Roloth, the seventh Artane monarch, began the trend, but it was not until the reign of his debauched grandson Iemald that Kaldor's leading families felt truly alienated.
Iemald's excesses and abuse of the powers of state caused widespread outrage. His technique of creating an air of mutual suspicion among the nobility kept outright rebellion at bay during his lifetime, but on his death without heir, Kaldor was once more wracked by war. For four years, the nobles waged bitter war on each other.
Petris Hernal, 13th Earl of Vemion, was eager to press his claim for the crown, and campaigned vigorously in the lowlands until the Caldeths of Zoben launched an attack at Minarsas during one of his long absences. Petris, displaying a typical Vemion taste for vengeance, returned to sack Zoben, but was later killed leading a relief force to break the siege of Minarsas. In 602TR, Borgal Caldeth supported Allesa Dariune's proposal to award the crown to Haldan Elendsa, Earl of Olokand. Shortly after Haldan's coronation in 603TR, Borgal was rewarded by the hand of Petris' widow, Alana, and was confirmed in the title and lands of Petris' earldom, and the overlordship of Kolorn, with the Bastunes as his vassals.
The early Elendsas saw social changes were needed if Kaldor were to survive. Haldan the elder reinforced the rights and responsibilities of feudalism, and it was during his reign that the modern boundaries of the counties and earldoms was established. His son, Haldan the Younger, founded the modern concept of Royal Justice and, saving the supremacy of his own Chancery Court, put its administration in the hands of the shire-reeves, or Sheriffs, whose duties up to this time mainly revolved around tax collection. The increase in the power of the sheriffs led to a corresponding decrease in the power of the earls and other powerful nobility, which was probably Haldan's main intent.
The flowering of Chivalry, under the sponsorship of Haldan's queen, Imelene (later Queen Chelebin III) and the development of Royal Justice have proved popular throughout Kaldor, and has led to increased stability among the free and especially the guilded classes. But in Vemionshire, where a form of vendetta law is traditional, it has been laxly enforced for many years.
For many years Vemionshire lay under the hands of locally-appointed sheriffs. That ended two years ago, when King Miginath appointed Sir Tulath Kaphin, the son of his concubine, to the post. Sir Tulath brought many lowland customs with him, and a cosmopolitan attitude that has induced a state of near shock in the conservative, insular element of Vemionshire society.
Vemion has a culture quite distinct from the rest of Kaldor, a curious amalgam of ancient Jarin traditions dating back to the Migration Wars and the Hârnic customs of the lowlands. While it could never be considered a truly Jarin area today, it retains a flavour of its ancient heritage in its customs, dialect and love of songs and stories.
Feuds and Vendettas
Vemionshire folk have never fully adapted to Haldan's judicial reforms, and sometimes turn to their ancestral practice of vendettas and wergild to pursue their grievances. Some courts ignore the practice, releasing defendants who have committed crimes in pursuit of a vendetta with only nominal punishment. Others judge usurping the King's authority more seriously.
Wergilds are generally private arrangements between clans, and hold no legal force in the eyes of Kaldoric law, though both parties may resent the intrusion of authority into what thy regard as their own affairs. Vendettas are not undertaken lightly, for they can lead to feuds, and some clanheads would rather disown a wayward scion and leave him to the tender mercies of those he offended than put their clan on a limb. The scion's relationship with the clanhead will obviously play a large part in any such decision.
Feuds develop when neither side of a vendetta is willing to give ground or accept fault. Although far less common now than in former years, there are numerous feuds operating within the shire, particularly in rural areas. Many of these are dormant, but minimal provocation will reawaken them. Feuding is a facet of every level of society, though it is uncommon between clans of differing status - one's enemies should be worthy.
Feuding clans show little hesitation in adopting royal justice as a complement to violence in their struggle, and legal battles can rage for years as writs and counter-writs are purchased. Legal feuding is generally more expensive, but far safer for the clans involved as physical confrontations are generally illegal and could, in extreme circumstances, lead to loss of lands.
Vemion music sounds slightly strange to Kaldoric ears, being modal rather than melodic. Most Vemion folk have a real passion for songs and dances of all kinds, and expect high standards of musicianship from performers, who are held in high regard.
Jigs and reels are favoured as dance tunes, and often consist of two or three related parts repeated over and over again while dancers perform set pieces. Tunes are complicated, and good performers will add their own embellishments to demonstrate their skill. Ballads often have a slightly different tune for each verse, and all too often, there are many verses to each song. Topics are wide-ranging, but laments and songs of shepherds' love for their sweethearts are common. Singers often check their pitch by inserting a finger in one ear, a habit much parodied in the lowlands.
Vemion even has its own instrument, a curious variation on the bagpipes, known as the Vemion Pipes. These have no mouthpiece, leaving the player free to sing or call out dancing instructions, but are powered by a small bellows worn on a belt round the performer's waist and strapped to the performer's left elbow, which pumps the bellows. Three drone pipes emerge from the mouth of the bellows and are held in the crook of the player's arm. Both hands are required to finger the playing pipe. A set of Vemion Pipes is a treasured possession for many shepherds, who while away many a lonely hour practising, and there is a whole school of Vemion music designed to blend in over the drone of the pipes.
All Vemionshire folk enjoy hearing and telling stories, but some are recognised as particularly gifted. Most Vemionshire villages recognise one person as the storyteller, and afford them considerable respect.
In addition to telling tales, the storyteller usually maintains an oral history of his or her village and its clans. There is no set method to determine who becomes the storyteller, but the favour of the old storyteller and the skill and popularity of the candidate are usually the main factors. The post is probably derived from that of the Jarin trehaen, but holds no legal force and is not an official manorial appointment, and so does not free the holder of any of his usual feudal obligations, though villagers may help a storyteller with his chores in more traditional districts. Even manorial lords acknowledge a storyteller's status, and usually seek their opinion on decisions affecting the village.
Religion and Beliefs
Although the vast majority of Vemionshire people worship Peoni and Larani like the rest of Kaldor, a significant minority worships Ilvir. Wandering Ilviran priests, though not encouraged by the authorities, travel throughout the shire, though they find a better reception in traditional areas, where perhaps as many as one in twenty families follow the Craven Lord. There are several Ilviran hermitages along the edge of the settled lands.
The nobility of the region have long worshipped Larani, and the county boasts two of the oldest abbeys in Kaldor, Halaina and Lyntord, but ancient barrows scattered throughout the county stand testament to former beliefs. These barrows feature heavily in local folklore, and are generally avoided. They are particularly common in the hills around Halaina Abbey, which was the ancient burial ground of the kings of Darlen.
Most commoners worship Peoni, and holy days are a time of great celebration, for the Vemion folk have inherited their ancestors' love of feasting and festivals. Most villages have a shrine to Peoni, and many have resident priests, some of whom object to their flock's more unorthodox expressions of piety, such as dancing in the church. Ilviran families generally follow Peoni as well, and worship in rural areas is incorporates many practices which are clearly Ilviran in origin, which may or may not be acceptable to the local priest.
Rural folk believe in a wide variety of sprites and spirits, and have numerous methods of protecting against them. Almost all rural families will leave milk outside the back door at night, for a friendly sprite is less likely to cause harm. Certain areas, such as barrows, glades or springs are believed to be special to the Fair Folk, and local custom often dictates a ritual which must be performed to appease them before approaching the special place. Many local tales, including the popular ballad of Tam Laen, warn of the perils of ignoring such customs.
Hospitality is a serious matter in Vemion, and is regarded as a matter of honour. Hosts will generally provide the best fare and accommodation they can to guests, who are expected to be grateful for whatever is offered. Any breach of trust between host and guest is considered most heinous, and could mark the start of a feud if the breach is serious enough. Because its significance, hospitality is not granted lightly.
Southern Vemionshire is dominated by the wool trade. Earl Caldeth's father began the region's involvement when he imported two expensive Kandayan rams to improve his flocks in 685TR. The union between the fine Kandayan longhairs and the native Vemion sheep has produced a hardy, long-haired sheep, the Vemion Cross, whose fleece is finer than any other breed of eastern Hârn.
The Earl has extensive holdings in Lynnfana Hundred. His demesne lands, which are often amount to half, and occasionally two-thirds, of the available acreage, are almost exclusively dedicated to sheep-rearing. Smaller landholders in Tishilan and Lynnfana have followed suit, though their resources do not often afford them the luxury of concentrating on sheep-farming to the exclusion of all else.
Atressa Hundred, in central Vemionshire, is dominated by mixed farming. Minarsas, the largest town in Vemionshire, is a centre for regional crafts and trades, and hosts the annual Wool Fair from Larane 15-20 each year. Grimruld Hundred, in the north, also concentrates on mixed farming, though there are fishing villages along the Selene.
River trade is an important source of revenue in Nenda, with furs, specialised timber and occasionally goods from Azadmere being shipped downstream in exchange for luxuries and specialised goods. The only good road in Vemionshire runs from Nenda, through Minarsas and Athelren, to Nubeth in Thelshire. Only Baron Hirnen, Earl Caldeth and the sheriff have the right to charge tolls for using this road, though entrepreneurs sometimes attempt to levy additional tolls on quiet stretches of the road.
Sheep are a favoured cash crop for both lords and wealthy peasants across much of feudal Hârn, but in Kaldor and Kanday wool is of a particularly fine quality. Opinions differ over which of these nations produces the best, but Kanday enjoys far better trade with western Lythia via Aleath, and its fleeces are very highly priced (around 6d a pound, or up to 14d a fleece). Landlocked Kaldor trades largely with Chybisa, Orbaal and Melderyn, but recent demand for Kandayan fleeces in Lythia has led to some trade with Tharda. The centres of sheep rearing in Kaldor are southern Vemionshire and central Oselshire.
Vemion wool is of a particularly high quality, certainly the equal of anything Kanday could produce, but the lack of Lythian trade means fleeces might fetch only 5d per pound. Cheaper Osel wool fetches about 4d a pound, which is the general average across Hârn.
Sheep are such a valuable source of coin in southern Vemion that some lords have given over almost their entire demesne to sheep pasture, and wealthy peasants, though most of their efforts are directed at cereal crops, will keep as many as their resources allow.
In addition to their fleeces, sheep provide milk, meat, and manure for fertilising the fields. Lambskin also makes fine vellum, and two big tanneries near Minarsas do fine trade with Melderyn and Tashal. Halaina Abbey and the Earl Caldeth own the largest flocks in Vemionshire. The Earl's extensive holdings in Lynnfana Hundred are heavily committed to sheep, and Halaina's flocks roam the all over the hills which ring it.
Hârnic sheep are small, standing between 39" and 46" high at the shoulder. Fleeces weigh between 1lb and 2.5lb. Sheep are valued for the quality of their fleeces, rather than their appearance, and there are notable regional variations. Longhaired Kanday and Kaldor sheep produce very fine wool, but the majority of Hârnic sheep produce short, coarse wool, though the quality in civilised areas is generally superior to most Lythian sheep.
Sheep are hardy grazers, and can survive in marginal lands insufficient to support cattle or other stock. Nevertheless, sheep reared on good pasture are larger and healthier. Lambing time runs from late Morgat to mid Nuzyael, and lambs are generally weaned at 12 weeks, allowing them to graze the stubble after the spring harvest with their mothers. Sheep milk is valued, and milking takes places from lambing time through to the end of Agrazhar; it is held that over-milking weakens ewes. Suckling lambs are sometimes fed cows milk or even ale to preserve more of the richer ewes' milk for people. Lynnfana villages produce a particularly fine sheep's cheese.
Shearing runs from early Nolus through early Larane. Sheep only begin producing marketable fleeces at the age of three or four, so they must be carefully over-wintered for several seasons before producing a return. Surplus animals are usually taken to market before their first winter. There is a fine balancing act to be struck over which animals to keep. Females are required to maintain the stocks, but wethers (castrated males) produce the best fleeces, and this practice is widespread. Few rams are needed, but they have an important role in maintaining and improving fleece quality, and are sometimes brought in from far regions.
In summer and autumn sheep are led out to the far pastures, though they are also allowed to graze the stubble after the main harvest in Azura. The majority will be over-wintered in folds on the lord's arable land, where their manure helps fertilise the soil. Some lords maintain sheepcotes, great thatched barns up to 100 feet long, which are lit with candles and lamps during lambing time. Most peasant sheep are herded communally, often by the village children. Only the wealthiest peasants can afford to keep more than half a dozen sheep - though some of the richest maintain flocks over more than 40 sheep - and many hold none at all. The lord's flocks can be extremely large, and are cared for by shepherds, generally cottars who perform the work in return for their smallholdings.
Popular opinion holds that a bad-tempered shepherd might distress the flock, even to the point where some sheep die, so most are chosen for their calmness and dedication. A shepherd is expected to care for every need of the sheep, from warning off or killing predators such as wolves, gargun and Ivashu, or summoning help if needed, to trimming the wool away from the ewe's teats that her lamb might suckle more easily.
Disease is common among sheep, and despite attempts to limit its spread by selling or culling sick animals, between one in five and one in ten sheep will die each year. The biggest killers are murrain (a generic term for a variety or respiratory and skin diseases), sheep-pox and Red Scab. Applications of verdigris (copper sulphate), butter, tar and grease are favourite weapons in the fight against skin disorders.
Shepherds' tools are few: a crook and a pair of shears suffice. Many shepherds carry a sling and a heavy knife as well. The long, lonely hours of watching the flocks at pasture afford shepherds the opportunity to develop creative skills, and many are skilled musicians, singers or whittlers. The Vemion Pipes, a curious variation of the bagpipes with no mouthpiece, powered by a small bellows strapped to the waist, are a treasured possession for many.
The Wise Men of Haudy
The people of Haudy, in Lynnfana Hundred, are generally held to be as thick as two short planks. Tales about them are told throughout Kaldor, except in Haudy - though there they say the stories started because they avoided Torastra's Chybisa Tax by pretending to be mad when the tax collector came.
I'll tell 'ee a tale of 'ow t'men of Haudy tried to catch Yael. Now, this were after they'd tried to drown t'eels, and not long before they tried to teach their cheeses to swim to t'market. I didn't see it for mysen, so I can't speak for the truth of it - but 'im what told me swore it 'appened.
Now, these three Haudy lads, they was looking up at Yael in its full when one says, "That's a nice-looking bit of cheese," and smacks 'is lips. T''others agreed, for they've a right taste for cheese down in Haudy. And as they looked at it, they began to get 'ungry.
Well, they soon get the idea they'll 'ave that nice-looking bit of cheese for theirsens. So one says to 'is mates, "I'm tallest. Lift us up an' I'll fetch it down." So they grabs 'is legs and lifts 'im up, but 'e can't reach it.
Then they sets to thinking, and one 'as t'bright idea o' climbing a tree. Up they go in among t'branches. First un, 'e stretches to reach Yael, but 'e leans too far and falls to t'ground. But 'e lands on 'is 'ead, so 'e i'n't hurting none. Well, second un thinks 'is mate's jumped, and 'e reckons that to be a fair idea, so 'e leaps towards Yael and lands, crash, next to t'first 'un. Third un, 'e wonders where t'mates 'ave gone, so 'e falls down to see.
Well, they're sitting there, rubbing t'heads, when they hears a gale o' laughter. There's un's missus, laughing till 'er sides are split. "That's t'daftest thing I've seen since our young 'un tried to pull t'plough so t'ox wouldn't tire," she says. "What does tha think tha't doing?" "We're trying to catch Yael," they tells 'er. Well, at this she starts laughing harder. "Tha dozy, great ijets," she tells 'em. " Yael's in t'puddle in t'yard."
Well, to this day, on every Yaelah, t'men of Haudy all grabs their rakes and tries to drag Yael from puddles, for it does look a right tasty bit o' cheese. But they 'asn't managed it yet. Does tha reckon they will?
The legend of Tam Laen survives in an old Vemionshire ballad. Several versions are sung around the shire, and one version is even found among the Orbaalese Jarin, fuelling speculation that the song may predate the founding of Jara. None of the people or locations mentioned are known today.
Despite warnings to avoid the place, young Branwen went to pick wild flowers from a grove near her home, said to be the haunt of the faery Tam Laen. She had only picked a few when the darkly-handsome Tam himself appeared, claiming the grove as his own, and demanding her virginity as compensation for the despoiled flowers. Despite her protests, he was insistent, and she was forced to give in before Tam would allow her to return to her father's castle.
Some months later, her maid realised Branwen was pregnant and advised her to return to the grove where she would find an abortificant herb. Branwen took her advice, but as she reached for the herb, Tam appeared again and seized her hand. Swearing his love for her, he begged her not to harm the child. He told her he was no elf, but a mortal ensorcelled by the Queen of Elfins, and unless Branwen helped him, the Queen would shortly sacrifice his soul to whatever dark power supported her, as she must do every six years. She agreed to help him escape, and he gave her strict instructions on what to do before sending her back to her father's castle to await the proper season.
Her pregnancy soon became generally known, but despite parental pressure, she refused to name the father, for that was one of Tam's conditions. All she would say was that her lover was not one of her father's men. On the Night of Shadows, according to Tam's instructions, she went to Malaec's Bridge, across which the Queen's Host would ride. Tam's horse was last, and as it passed her she pulled him from the saddle. Instantly the Queen turned and cursed her, then turned Tam into a viper, but Branwen held him tight.
Eight transformations the Queen inflicted on Tam, each more horrific than the last. Different versions of the ballad suggest different forms, but most agree he ended as an aklash, which spun round three times in her arms. But even this fearsome form would not convince her to let go of Tam, for he had promised her he would not hurt her whatever happened. Realising her failure, the Queen cursed the pair for outwitting her and vanished with her Host, leaving Tam human once more.
The ballad offers an intriguing spin on the nature of the morsinda (cf. "The Heart that Broods" in HârnPlayer). The suggestion that Gwydriel owes allegiance to some power is unique. This, combined with striking Ilviran imagery (the numbers three, six and eight are held significant in many Ilviran sects) has led some scholars to suggest Gwydriel may have allied with Ilvir, which might help explain her creation of the "little people". Others claim this is heresy. The Night of Shadows has no direct Ilviran connection, but it is generally held as an evil day across Hârn, for it is sacred to Naveh, and falls on the eve of the Morgathian Feast of Bukrai. But it is also a holy night for Siem.
We have, we hope, provided a rich vein for GMs to plunder for a colourful campaign. Vemionshire has a distinctive flavour somewhat at odds with the rest of Kaldor. But players taste that flavour through play, not reading background articles. Here are some suggestions.
There are a number of potential conflicts running through Vemionshire. Conflicts mean drama, of course, and drama means memorable scenarios for your players.
We say potential conflicts because most of them are held in abeyance, giving you the opportunity to pick and choose those you want to emphasise. You might choose one or two conflicts as central themes to your campaign and decide to leave others as simple background. The themes listed here are also unresolved, and we intend to leave them that way, so you can decide their outcomes.
First, there is a rivalry between traditionalists and reformers. Vemion is a backwater with its own way of doing things. Tradition is strongest in rural areas and among the old county nobility. Reformers are more common in towns and among the guilded classes, where people are somewhat more cosmopolitan. Conflict between the Sheriff (who wants to be a reformer) and the Earl (who comes from one of the oldest Vemionshire lineages) works at this level, but extends to their personalities: the Earl is mature, charismatic and confident; the sheriff is young, poorly regarded and has low self-esteem. The Sheriff desperately needs to do something to bolster his image; the Earl probably doesn't even need to worry about his image. However, through his mother, the sheriff has a great deal of influence at court, which the Earl cannot ignore.
An obvious, and rather open-ended, source of conflict is the Vemionshire style of feuding. These can smolder for years before flaring into violence, and we have left them largely undefined so you can tailor them to suit your campaign. You don't even need a reason for the feud (if it's been forgotten); just pick two clans and a couple of events for them to get angry about. Any flare-up attracting official notice could quickly bring the traditional-reform conflict into play as Royal Justice seeks to punish the happy feuders, should you want to use that angle as well.
There is economic conflict between Minarsas, which is the centre of the wool trade, and Athelren, which gets Minarsas' cast-offs, though it lies closer to the wool-producing areas. There is more economic conflict between the wealthy Earl (who is not only the largest wool-producer, but rakes revenues off the Wool Fair to boot), and the monks of Halaina, the second largest producer, who desperately need cash revenues from their flock to pay for abbey repairs.\
There may well be conflict in the southern hundreds between lords who wish to take more demesne land (or even want to enclose common land) to focus more on sheep production, and the peasantry, who seek to maintain their ancient rights and lands. Another manifestation of the traditionalist-reformer conflict?
There is possible rivalry between the northern hundreds and the southern. The south (and Minarsas) has grown rich off the wool trade. The north, though it has its own sources of income, is simply not as wealthy. Emphasise this by making northerners jealous of the southerners, who return the envy with contempt.
Tension can exist between Peonians and Ilvirans. The majority of Vemionshire peasants would think of themselves as Peonians, though their style of worship and some of their beliefs might borrow from Ilviranism. Emphasise this conflict by introducing purists (of either faith) determined to stamp out paganism.
There are numerous other tensions working at either a local or national level: the Earl's son-in-law, Sedris Meleken is missing; the sheriff is a contender (albeit an outside one) for the throne on Miginath's death; Tabin the Athelren chandler is spreading nasty gossip about Dion the Metalsmith (see Athelren).
There are many ways to present these conflicts. They can generate rumours for the PCs to gather, motivate or colour NPCs, spark adventures, and even help flesh out PCs. Coherent, finite campaigns cry out for a strong central theme to hold them together: once the theme has been resolved, the campaign ends. But sub-themes can extend the campaign's lifespan for some time, and there is always the possibility of running a sequel with a grander theme as its backbone. Freewheeling, open-ended campaigns tend to be more concerned with character motivation than theme or plot (unless the theme is somewhat abstract). In this case, GM's might pick up and put down themes merely to illustrate aspects of character (either of a PC or NPC).
It doesn't really need saying, but the best way of making Vemionshire distinctive is by getting the mood of your campaign right. Choosing themes carefully is the first, vital step, but your campaign atmosphere builds on this foundation. Here are a few ways to hammer the point home. Not all will suit all GMs.
Vemionshire folk are fond of storytelling, so tell stories. There are several in the tales and legends section to start you off, and some contain ideas you can develop further (three incidents worthy of their own stories are mentioned in The Wise Men of Haudy, for instance). There are more tales in HârnPlayer. Making up your own stories is a lot of fun too, and it is the best way of ensuring the mood is right for your campaign. If you need inspiration, it is easy to adapt folk tales and legends from earthly cultures. Encourage players to make up and tell stories, too - a well-told story might win them friends among their audience.
The area is extremely rural. The easiest way of representing this, but most cliched, is to adopt a suitably rustic accent for appropriate NPCs. Unfortunately, there are likely to be quite a lot of rustic NPCs around, and this technique quickly becomes tiresome. A far better way of demonstrating the rural nature of the area is to emphasise the changing seasons (see my Medieval Farming Calendar for details). Most people are going to be far more concerned with completing their tasks at the proper time than with aiding a bunch of young ne'er-do-wells go gallivanting off around the countryside.
Music is an important aspect of Vemionshire life. Why not play appropriate music during gaming sessions? Vemionshire has a Jarin heritage, so any form of music with a Celtic twist may be suitable. Synthesised tunes like the work of Enya or later Clannad offerings promote a mystic feel. For a more earthy feel, turn to traditional music, particularly folk dance tunes. If you really want to go the whole hog, try something by Kathryn Tickell, the virtuoso player of the Northumbrian Pipes, on which the Vemion Pipes are based.