As told over a course of a couple days by Forin Laginfoot at the Torn Bow Tavern outside Frymunt in the Warkra Islands.
Vartanadel is a country hard to describe to an outsider. Everybody has this odd idea of the place as the home of a tyrant and a place of slaves. While true, in a general way, most people are cared for pretty well. There is such a wealth of misinformation about everything that it is hard to pry the true truth from the fabricated truth. I tell you all this as a man of the former Noble House Perth, a mighty house about 10 years back. However, if you ask anybody about it now, it never existed.
But I get a little ahead of myself with my own stories. Vartanadel, the greatest and eldest civilization in all of Decathros. True or not, who knows…who cares. The only thing that matters is King Korian says it’s true, therefore it is true.
King Korian Comeaga IV, his grandest of grand benevolent, ruler of all of Vartanadel may the gods continue to bless his house. King Korian and his lineage has ruled, literally, forever. The scribes would tell you he has ruled since the mountains were formed, before water existed and before the smell of a fart was created. If ever there was a beginning, the Nobles will certainly tell you that it started with the ruler of Vartanadel. Very few would ever question the word of the king or his men. His word is law. The word of his men is law. To disobey means death, or even worse, your complete and utter erasure from the world: Ghosting.
The nobility is a band of cutthroat, pompous egotistical elite that have no idea what happens outside the city of Tanand. That is the capital of Vartanadel, of course. The nobles are so caught up in there posturing and obvious attempts to impress the King to gain station that they have long ago lost sight of what it means to rule. Luckily they don’t. They have their orders and directives, but outside the capital the land is really ruled through the Shan and they do a good enough job. Occasionally they get caught up in the overarching plots of some ignorant noble and are forced into situations, but have no doubt, the Shan run Vartanadel.
But let me paint a better picture of the land before we fall too far into the politics. Vartanadel is rich. Insane rich. Old rich. The nobles have so much money collected that there is almost no way to correctly describe it. Much of it is old, recycled money. Money just moves from noble to noble in the shape of bribes, offerings and donations as they work to try and jockey themselves into the King's good graces. And the extravagance of what they buy! Lords. Palaces, gowns, slaves, hell, even entire cities are up for sale. Then when a Noble family is Ghosted, all that wealth is pretty much up for grabs.
Ghosted? Yeah, well that is what happened to the Noble House Perth. One day we were moving our way to the top of the Noble rankings, the next a bastard third son of a Second Lord or some such caused an embarrassment to the King and, within a fortnight, there was nothing left of the Noble House Perth. Erased from the records, its wealth claimed by those inside the favor of the king. Perth’s nobility, at least 10 levels of Lords, all killed by other House’s assassins. The leftover manpower was redistributed like coin by Houses that claimed the rights, homes and estates given by a nod of the King and all historical records were purged of the name Perth. But this moves into politics again. In my defense, everything moves into politics with Vartanadel.
Money. Yes, the real money. Not the coins made off of the large expanses of land, farming, woods and raising of livestock and such. The real money comes from the Northern Mines. I could tell you which families owned each of the dozens of mine when I left but that, like much in Vartanadel, changes on the whim of the elite. Each of the Houses pay very close attention to the mines, for those that own them are in the King’s good graces. Being in the King’s good graces, well, that makes you wealthy and powerful beyond reason.
But these nobles, they don’t have a clue what happens at the mines. Lord, few do and I have only heard rumors. But I trust those rumors more than I do the House’s stories. Let me give you a quick overview of what is known of the mines. If we had more time I would tell you much more.
From the noble’s perspective, say my imaginary First Lord of Perth that no longer exists, say they own the Bruth Mines. Location doesn't matter as most Lords wouldn't have a clue where their mine is, nor are they encouraged to find out. Sure, they have maps and all that but I would bet you my left foot that those locations are entirely made up. Anyways, Perth owns the Bruth Mines, they have a general estimate on how much it produces yearly. This number, surprise, comes from the King’s treasurer so you can imagine how factual it is. The Nobles only know they get that much income a year from the mine.
It isn't so much the money, but the status that comes with owning a mine. Each mine is ranked on its production which changes a few times a year. The mines output is occasionally reassessed or, in other words, the change comes from the pleasure of the king. Two years ago the Klidder Mine was the most profitable of all. Now it is almost last in production. It is a wonder that the House that possessed that mine fell out of favor of the king in almost the same timeline as the Mine’s output was reduced. You don’t have to be a scholar to see how that plays out. But the Houses maintain their willful ignorance and play the game that the mine production reflects true work. Houses would kill those that spoke otherwise. So, when it comes to the mines, you can gauge the rise and fall of the houses, if you know nothing else, by the output of the mines they own.
You can guess how it works already from what I have told you. There certainly are mines. Of that there is no doubt. How much wealth they actually produce is unknown. It has been rumored that the mines are totally controlled by the King’s men and paid exceedingly well. Precious metals and rare stones come in, go to the King’s Treasurer and get minted and polished. Then it is distributed to the Houses. The Houses have nothing to do with the mine’s output until the finished products are put into their greedy hands. They have done absolutely no work and have no clue where it comes from. Yet, as soon as they get it, they pledge their undying gratefulness to the king and immediately give back up to and over 25%. The King may, in turn, return some back to the House for their loyalty and the game of swap the wealth continues.
Because of the amount of gifts and donations that the Houses give the King, and he gives back, it only makes sense that the money is recycled between all the Nobles without an ounce of production needed from the mines. For all we know the mines have been barren for years.
The miners themselves? They are slaves, criminals or those poor souls willing to make the trek and gain some wealth working as freemen. A criminal is a loose term that I will explain a bit more later we talk of the Shan. Let’s just say for now, don’t ever speak against a Shan, or the King, or the land. You will be Ghosted as quick as noble House.
When it comes to the King and the Nobles, The Mines and Tanand are all that really matter. The commons of Vartanadel is ran by the Shan and given little notice by the Nobles. This, in all honesty, is what makes Vartanadel such a great land. The rulers are too busy fighting and maneuvering among themselves to spend much time on the land. The Shan are a sturdy, fair bunch with a defined set of rules they uphold. If something happens in the greater lands of Vartanadel and ripples up to the Noble Houses then money, men and equipment is thrown at it till it is no longer a problem. The main concern of the Houses is keeping the King happy. Any disruption in the lands with repercussions all the way to Tanand is dealt with quickly and severely. Of course, this is sometimes used as a maneuver by one of the houses but not as often as you would think. The Shan, while subordinates of the Houses, carry much sway and power outside The Mines and Tanand. It would take much wealth and promise to secure their assistance in a disruption. If it fails, the Shan are the ones that will pay the price.
So, really, the people of the Vartanadel are able to maintain a comfortable existence as long as they don't disrupt the status quo. Any disruptions unsanctioned by the Houses is dealt with quickly by the Shan. The Shan have a presence in every town, every city, every outpost and enforce the King’s law. They have representatives on every ship, in every port and every sea side village. They also go on every caravan and are central to almost all trade deals to happen. The ever present eye of the Shan is always there keeping the peace...or purposely disrupting it on orders.
This ever present eye of the Shan is accepted and embraced by the local cultures. Visitors, however, often have a very difficult time adapting to the constant oversight. Visitors are not fully trusted by many in Vartanadel and don't get the warmest of welcome. Vartanadel is not very open to visitors and the ability of the King to take care of all their needs is a sense of national pride. The need for trade is often under emphasized and often rejected. The Shan understand the overall need so make it possible, but difficult, for outsiders to come in and trade.
I spoke a lot of the Noble Houses, but I really haven’t even hit on Tanand. And you must understand the Shan to understand the part of Vartandel that you will be visiting. I promised a bit more of the mines too I suppose. My throat is parched and it is late, we will speak more on it all tomorrow.