The Freeholds, like the Rhadynnic kingdoms of the Heulwen Sea, are ruled by aristocratic Houses consisting of extended families that trace their ancestry to a common origin. Each these Houses form an extended network that surround the rulers and vassals within the various Freeholds. In general, where a position within a Freehold is held by a member of one of these Houses and the holder dies (or needs to be replaced for other reasons), a successor is chosen from the members of the House. Traditionally, any member of the House was eligible to succeed to a title held by that House, with the new holder chosen by acclamation by electors from within the House, or by allied Houses, or, for subordinate Houses, selected by he head of their ruling House. Since the fall of the High Kings, many of these positions have become markedly hereditary, with sons, and sometimes daughters, succeeding their fathers, although for the most part the ancient forms are followed and the electors go through the process of casting votes, even though the conclusions are preordained.
King or Queen: At the top of the political order of each Freeholds is a king, or in some cases a ruling queen, elevated to the position and chosen by the earls of their realm serving as electors. By tradition, every king in the Freeholds is also an earl - a fact that allows them to participate in their own elections - and holds lands and power by virtue of that title as well as by virtue of holding royal power. Kings in the Freeholds do not have anything remotely close to absolute power, although they are technically the final arbiter and authority within their domains. The kings in the Freeholds, even those who have conquered their domains in the years since the fall of the High Kings of the Rhadynnic Sky Empire, are constrained by a body of inherited law and tradition that limits their powers and grants those living under their rule certain rights. These laws and traditions are, in practice, enforced by the earls of each Freehold, and to a lesser extent by the thanes and ceorls. A king who loses the confidence of his Earls can find himself replaced by another member of his House, or in extreme cases, by one of his own earls.
Earl: The earls of the Freeholds are collectively the most politically powerful men in the region. The earls in a Freehold together form a ruling council, creating a potential counterbalance to the power of the king. A king who is supported by his Earls is a powerful monarch. A monarch who finds themself at odds with their earls is a weak ruler, and may find him or herself out of a job. The title of earl is the one title that has been traditionally determined by heredity, with the powers of the position being handed down from father to son, or sometimes daughter. The question of who is next in the line of succession to an earldom is a matter that is accounted for by the Earl Marshal of each realm, a royal office that is obviously of utmost importance and is almost always occupied by one of the most powerful figures in a kingdom. Earls are generally powerful landowners, ruling over an earldom, sometimes called a march, aided by the members of his House and his chosen thanes and ceorls, and possessing the power to raise armies, make war, levy taxes, and mete low, middle, and high justice.
Thane: Landholding nobles and vassals of the earls who appoint them, thanes are responsible for most local administration, handling matters such as tax collection, enforcement of duties and customs, levying troops, and the right to administer low, and sometimes middle justice. Thanes are charged with hunting outlaws, carrying out the edicts of their king and their earl, and otherwise managing their domains in the name of their liege lord. A thane usually has a military obligation to his liege, typically a requirement to provide a certain number and specified type of troops or ships, often including a requirement to maintain a set number of ceorls as well. The title of thane is not hereditary, although it is traditionally held by particular Houses, with the ruling earl holding the right to determine which member of the House the title passes to, and the right to remove a thane under certain circumstances. In practice, the title is usually hereditary, and some thanes have argued that this common practice has made this form of succession a legal right.
Ceorl: The title of ceorl is decidedly not hereditary, being bestowed upon individuals by Kings or Earls, a bestowal of power and rank in exchange for military service. There are generally two types of cerols, the husceorl, a group that generally makes up the household and personal retinue of a noble lord, and the more common free ceorl. Both types of title are bestowed in much the same way: The prospective ceorl pays homage to his liege who then empowers the applicant with the privileges and authorities of a ceorl in exchange for certain duties, almost always spelled out in a covenant taking the form of a warrant or commission that is valid for the duration of the life of the liege or the life of the vassal (whichever ends first), or such time as the liege revokes the grant.
The husceorls are created by kings and earls to serve as their personal retainers, and form the core of their personal armies. Most husceorls are drawn from the House of the ruling noble, and many serve in important positions within his household. In many kingdoms and earldoms, the critical or particularly personal offices of state are held by husceorls. They form the personal guard of their liege, serve as trusted emissaries, agents, and messengers, and in times of war, take up arms as officers in their liege's armies.
Most free ceorls are "country" ceorls, having a grant of land to establish a manor upon and rule over as a petty lord, subject to being summoned to perform duties to their liege as commanded. A ceorl has some autonomy, usually being empowered to mete out low justice among other sundry powers and derives his income from his granted demense, typically in the form of income from their farms and the farms of those living on their lands, or for those granted suzerainty over a village, income from the customary fees paid by the villagers. This income allows a ceorl to maintain himself and some number of armed warriors ready for service to his liege, and allows the kings and earls of the Freeholds to call upon substantial military force should the need arise.
Offices in the Kingdoms of the Freeholds
Even though ultimate power is vested in the various nobles of the Freeholds, they do not administer their domains by themselves. No single person could handle the vast responsibilities of administering an entire kingdom or earldom, and few can handle running a thanate on their own. So the kings of the Freeholds have taken to delegating authority and power to office-holders as a means of political patronage, and many earls and thanes have followed suit. The kings and queens of the Freeholds will typically appoint officers in all of the positions given here, if for no other reason than it gives them a benefice that they could hand out to a loyal supporter or political ally. Earls typically follow suit, appointing officers to similar positions within their own retinues, although in the case of offices in earldoms the prefaces ""great", and "high" are not used. Some thanes appoint officers as well, but they usually use a significantly truncated roster.
Chancellor of the Exchequer: For most kings and earls, one of the most important officers among his servants is his chancellor of the exchequer, an officer responsible for collecting taxes and handling the treasury of the realm. The exchequer is also responsible for overseeing the minting of coins and licensing mints throughout his liege's realm. Almost every noble has an official designated as their exchequer to manage their finances, and as one might expect, it is a position that is only handed to the most loyal and trusted vassals. In many cases, the chancellor of the exchequer is the second most powerful man in a kingdom, as he controls the purse strings and all of the other officials are dependent upon him for their funds.
Chancellor of Justice: The chancellor of justice is the senior judicial official in a realm, responsible for the administration of justice throughout a ruler's holdings. Although a king or an earl possesses the power to dispense justice personally, most delegate the handling of most legal matters to their chancellor of justice. The chancellor of justice is also responsible for the supervision of any subordinate justices who might be appointed to handle lesser matters.
Earl-Marshal: The earl-marshal is a uniquely royal appointment, as this official's responsibility is to maintain the proper records of the members of the aristocratic Houses within the kingdom. This position is usually held by the most powerful earl in a realm that the king believes he can depend upon, because it is this person's responsibility to make sure that those who hold the titles they hold are actually entitled to hold them. As this involves certifying who the electors for a royal succession are as well as determining the order of succession for earldoms, this job is of great importance. Because the earl-marshal is so intimately involved in matters of succession, this official is also responsible for managing a deceased monarch's funeral. The earl-marshal is also responsible for sorting out disputes between earls in the event that the sovereign is unable to or declines to do so personally. Finally, the earl-marshal is generally regarded as the second or third most senior military official in a realm, falling behind on the high constable and the high admiral in authority.
Earl-Regent: The earl-regent is an office usually only granted in fairly limited circumstances when a king of one of the Freeholds assigns the responsibility of running and administering his earldom to another person, usually his heir apparent. This office is almost never appointed in other situations except in the rare case in which an earl has died or been removed and there is no valid adult successor to take his place.
Great Chamberlain: The chamberlain is a position that was originally responsible for managing the household staff of his liege and the provisioning of his residence, but like most of the offices of state, his responsibilities and authorities have expanded. The great chamberlain of a realm is generally now responsible for managing the officials of the entire realm and ensuring that they have the required equipment to fulfill their duties - often effectively serving as the leading quartermaster for the entire royal apparatus, including the king's armies. In some places, the chamberlain's status has risen even higher, and the position's responsibilities include coordinating other officers of state, becoming the single fulcrum around which administration of the realm revolves.
High Admiral: The high admiral is, as one would expect, the commander of the royal fleets. This title is sometimes rendered as "lord high admiral". Among the warring great houses of the Rhadynnic Sky Empire this title is usually bestowed upon the senior military commander in a ruler's forces, but in those Freeholds where it is used, this is usually the second ranking military commander in a realm, ranking behind the high constable and above the earl-marshal.
High Constable: The high constable is the senior military commander in a realm, charged with leading the royal armies in battle. This title is usually held by an individual who is closely related to the ruling sovereign - frequently his heir or brother, but sometimes a trusted uncle or cousin.
High Steward: The high steward is charged with the administration of a ruler's domains. The responsibilities of this position vary wildly, ranging from merely managing his liege's residence in some cases, to managing and maintaining all of the royal fortresses, to managing all of the royal holdings. Consequently, the importance of this office varies wildly as well. In some places, the office of high steward is regarded as being equal in prestige and responsibility to the chancellor of the exchequer or the earl-marshal, while in others it is seen as little more than a sinecure of little importance.
Keeper of the Seal: The keeper of the seal is an office with great responsibility and prestige, but little actual power. Every land ruling king or noble uses a seal to mark official documents, and the keeper of the seal is charged with holding and carrying this seal on behalf of their liege. Because many documents are not "official" unless they bear the imprint of the seal, safeguarding this object is of critically vital importance. The keeper of the seal has also become the oath-hearer, the officer that hears the taking of oaths on behalf of their liege, and who assigns penalties to oath-breakers.
Master of the Gates: The master of the gates is one of the oldest offices in existence. In the past, those holding this position would serve as champion, and fight on behalf of his liege when it came to matters of law or honor. Legends speak of entire wars being decided by a contest between masters of the gate serving opposed rulers. In a world in which legal or political disputes are only very rarely decided by the trial of arms, the position has evolved a sword bearer, a figure responsible for maintaining and safeguarding the king's sword and armor, carrying them when the king goes on campaign, and outfitting the king and fighting by his side when the sovereign goes into battle. This position is almost always held by a husceorl of the king's household, usually one of his most trusted men. This position is also appointed by most earls and even thanes, and in some cases, the master of the gate has substantial administrative responsibilities and authority as well.
Master of the Horse: The master of the horse was originally an officer charged with managing their liege's stables and horses. But, like the master of the gate, the responsibilities of the master of the horse have grown over time, and this official is usually charged with overseeing the rolls of the ceorls created by and beholden to his master. The master of the horse holds their commissions and is responsible for ensuring that they satisfy their duties and obligations as required. In times of war, it is the responsibility of the master of the horse to ensure that the ceorls are called out and organized for service.
Master of the Hunt: The master of the hunt is, quite naturally, responsible for managing his liege's hunting animals, such as dogs or falcons. But the master of the hunt also has a greater responsibility to manage the royal forests and hunting lands, employing a number of foresters to maintain these areas and the wildlife upon them. The master of the hunt has also become associated with the responsibility of providing scouts during war, and in some cases, spies as well.
President of the Council: The president of the council is the one office in a realm not usually determined by the king, but rather by the common choice of the earls within the kingdom. Every king in the Freeholds is elected and supported by a council of earls, and the holder of this title is the head of that council. The president of the council is selected, not by the king, but rather by the council of earls, who choose one of their number to lead their meetings.
The campaign will start in the village of Lonn's Ford at the confluence of the Pererin and Meander Rivers in the Brigantia March of the Kingdom of Ceniþ in the Freeholds in Midrun. Lonn's Ford is also the location of the recently constructed fortress of Cær Ånwar. The campaign will start in the year 472 by the High King's Reckoning (HKR).
The Brigantia March is the northern frontier of the kingdom of Ceniþ in the Freeholds and is currently ruled over by Earl Rhuddlum Cwensonne of House Ånwar. Located in a highland valley nestled in the Nimlau Mountains, the Brigantia March is crossed by important trade routes connecting Ceniþ to Steinigreich as well as the large cities in Elizon. Unfortunately, the passes through which these trade routes run make the March vulnerable to attack by the more barbaric chieftains in Elizon and the denizens in the Achelos Forest, the Stonetalon Mountains, and the untamed wilderness between the Stonetalons and the Steinig Mountains. These passes are each guarded by large fortresses, the more imposing being Cær Wydyr, located in the Wydyr Pass near the headwaters of the Meander River and which is maintained by the Order of the Shield, and the other being Cær Vyriddin, located in the Vyriddin Pass near the headwaters of the Pererin River and which is owned and maintained by the Earl of Brigantia.
The Pererin River feeds into the Meander River at the strategic confluence at Lonn’s Ford, now guarded by the freshly constructed Cær Ånwar. From there the Meander leads to the largest geographic feature in the March, the broad and deep Sosemere. On the shores of the Sosemere are a handful of villages and two notable towns, Garo’s Wharf, the home of one of the most important of House Ånwar’s Thanes, and Laketon, the large trading town located where the Sosemere feeds into the Glein River. The Glein River then flows through Carn Modahn, past the imposing, ancient, and mostly neglected fortress of Cær Mhon.
Starting in 458 HKR the humanoids and giants beyond the Brigantia March’s northern boundary started to become more organized and aggressive, rallying under the banner of an evil temple located in the Achelos Forest north of the Vyriddin Pass. This temple joined the combined forces of those who honored Halpas, Iku-Tyrma, Khil, and Surtan, forging them into a potent army under the command of a figure that styled himself the Prince of Elemental Darkness. Raids through the northern march became progressively more frequent and more destructive over the next couple of years, and raiders were even seen under the Temple’s banner in the Hills of Brann-Galedd and Eidling. In the spring of 461 HKR, after years of border raids and counter raids, the Prince of Elemental Darkness rallied his host and invaded the Brigantia March, overwhelming Cær Vyriddin and overrunning the northern march. By fall the Prince’s forces had ventured as far south as Cær Mhon and placed Laketon under siege.
The Dark Temple's forces dispatched to Cær Mhon proved unable to overcome the skeleton garrison that defended the stronghold under the command of the then teen-aged Rhuddlum Cwensonne. Similarly, Cær Wydyr held out against repeated attacks through the summer, autumn, and winter of 461-462, with the paladins of the Order of the Shield doggedly holding on to their isolated fortress despite deep privation caused by lack of food. Eorl Cwen commanded the forces defending Laketon until he died in the early days of 462, when he was cut down by trolls while repelling an assault. His son Beagan succeeded him, ascending to become Eorl of an almost entirely occupied country. Emboldened by their success, the Dark Temple sent expeditionary forces across the Nimlau Mountains into Eidling and deeper into Ceniþ, as well as raids through the Hills of Brann-Galedd into Cadfor.
In the spring of 462, King Smoit of Ceniþ summoned his armies and called upon his ally King Eatun of Eidling who sent a force under the command of his most powerful Eorl to aid in the war. King Gurne of Cadfor sent a column of troops through the Hills of Brann-Galedd to relieve Cær Wydyr and put a halt the raids into his own lands. With three kings demanding action, the High Council could not refuse, and a company of the Warknights of the Realm were attached to Smoit’s army, while platoons of Wardens were sent through the Hills of Brann-Galedd into the Achelos Forest to attack the villages and settlements supporting the Dark Temple. Mannan, Dallen, and Ådon all joined the cause, disturbed by the eldritch powers displayed by the Prince of Elemental Darkness, as did three members of the Collegium. Under this combined force, the Dark Temple’s fortunes began to turn. Cær Mhon was relieved in the spring of 462, and the forces besieging of Laketon were driven off early in the summer of 462. The combined allied army under the command of Prince Trystan of Ceniþ drove north to meet the Dark Temple’s main body in the middle of summer at the Battle of Red Fields, where they broke the power of the armies of the Prince of Elemental Darkness. This victory was marred by the death of Eorl Beagan, the second Eorl of House Ånwar to die in 462. He was succeeded by his brother Einion, who, along with Trystan rallied the forces of Ceniþ to continue northwards and laid siege to the Dark Temple itself, breaking down its walls and rooting out its last defenders. Dallen, Mannan, and Ådon banished the Prince of Elemental Darkness and sealed the Dark Temple with arcane runes of power.
With the Dark Temple overthrown and the Prince of Elemental Darkness rendered impotent, the war was over. The allied forces dispersed, leaving a shattered march in the hands of Eorl Einion. With its farms and villages burned, its fortresses damaged or destroyed, its armies spent, and its countryside depopulated, the Brigantia March was in dire need of reconstruction. King Smoit offered some aid, although his own treasury was greatly depleted by the war. Unfortunately, despite Smoit’s help, and Eorl Einion’s best efforts, the March received another setback when Einion was crippled fighting an incursion by giants in the autumn of 463, and then died when an epidemic of fever swept through the beleaguered March that winter. At age twenty, having lost his father, uncle, and two older brothers within the previous two years, Rhuddlum became Eorl of the Brigantia March.
Eorl Rhuddlum set about rebuilding his devastated dominion, and has proved to be an able ruler, although he has faced some criticism for his chosen policies. To defend his lands, he borrowed heavily from the Crefft to rebuild the fortifications at Cær Vyriddin and Laketon, and build a new fortress dubbed Cær Ånwar in the northern March controlling the crossing of the Meander and Pererin Rivers. As an incentive to the Crefft to extend these loans, Earl Rhuddlum offered several concessions to the Merchant’s Guild, waiving tolls, fees, and duties for members, and allowing them to build Guild Houses in many new locations. Rhuddlum gave stronger voice to the Order of the Shield, allowing them to choose the priests assigned to many of the Eorldom’s churches in exchange for their support in the form of money and men. To encourage those displaced by war to return to their farms and villages, Rhuddlum waived taxes for five years for anyone who returned to their former lands, and to repopulate areas where the inhabitants were unwilling to return or had been killed by war, famine, or disease, he issued an edict proclaiming that anyone who occupied abandoned lands could claim ownership of them so long as they were willing use the land to take up farming or another of several other occupations described as “useful trades”. In response, many farmers and craftsmen seeking to lay claim to property have moved into the region, helping restore the population.
While, these policies have helped to rebuild the March and to restore the population, they have not been without controversy. Some of Rhuddlum’s Thanes expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of ability to tax those in their lands despite still being required to meet their own financial and military obligations to House Ånwar. Many Thanes as well as others have also complained about the substantial economic concessions made to the Crefft, which they feel have taken even more money out of their own pockets. Rhuddlum has also appointed several new Ceorls and one new Thane to take the place of those who had fallen in war, creating new nobility out of adventurers who had proved themselves both loyal and skilled in battle. This has offended some of the existing Thanes, who resent the newcomers in their ranks. Some of the older Thanes had argued
vociferously that the lands that ended up being bequeathed upon these upstart gentry should have been distributed to their Houses instead.
No decision has caused as much unrest as Rhuddlum’s concessions to the Order of the Shield. The Order had long been an ally of House Ånwar, maintaining the critical stronghold at Cær Wydyr at the gateway to Elizon, but the Order had also always tread lightly in matters of local politics. But since the war, the Order has become increasingly outspoken, insisting on being given the right to build and choose the staff of local village and town temples, and pressuring Rhuddlum into accepting some of their members as officers in his household, much to the chagrin of his Thanes, who regarded such positions as rightly theirs. Currently Eorl Rhuddlum's Steward, Lord Privy Seal, and Lord Marshall are all members of the Order of the Shield. But the infusion of members of the Order of the Shield into the local politics of the Brigantia March has had another, more pernicious effect: Always suspicious of the followers of the druidic Old Faith, some members of the crusader order have suggested that the druids aided, or at least were insufficiently vigorous in their opposition to, the Dark Temple’s forces. This suggestion, in an environment in which many already harbored the belief that many of their countrymen had collaborated with the invaders, has sparked considerable prejudice against the adherents to the Old Faith, splitting the populace, and in many cases pitting older, established residents against the new settlers.