The Vartanadel Mountains
The Vartanadel Mountains, or Spikes in normal conversation, are actually three separate northerly pointing peninsulas. Each peninsula has a low lying mountain range with the highest peaks being between 3,000 and 5,000 feet tall. The small mountain range, and more expansive hills, are thoroughly covered with rough terrain and thick woods. Scattered among the hills and mountains are many large crags, deep ravines, ridges and a few large plateau areas.
Each peninsula is named after a dragon from legend. The western peninsula is called Grandum after the first dragon. The story is that Grandum brought the first of man to Decathros and placed him in Tanand. Grandum then purged Vartanadel of dangers to allow man to thrive. The overall shape of Vartanadel is said to be in Gradum’s image. Vartanadel is the head of the dragon while the three northern peninsulas form the shape of Grandum’s spikes, hence the nickname. The center peninsula, Orath, is named for the dragon of magic. Grandum created the land while Orath is the father of all magic in the land. It is said that Orath still rests underneath the mountains of his namesake. A ship skirting the western coast of Orath would see the shape of the distant, misty mountains would be in the shape of a sleeping dragon. The eastern peninsula is Shaluz, the only female dragon. She is the mother of the creatures of the world and is given the responsibility to keep them safe.
The Dragon Mines
The Northern Mines, or Dragon Mines as they are often referred to, are safely deep in the Vartanadel Mountains. The difficulty of the terrain and placement of the mines ensures their safety from a large scale attack. The mining roads that snake into each of the areas are generally well maintained and very well patrolled.
The wealth of Vartanadel comes from these mines. Through the ages, the mines have been a very lucrative endeavor providing the Vartanadel royalty with all the wealth they would care to have.
All the official trade from the mines goes through Tanand, or at least the authorization of it. The coastline of these areas are dotted with active cities and ghost towns as the success of the different mines changes. The bulk of the mine’s resources are taken overland to Tanand and given to their craftsmen for shaping and polishing. Ships are used depending on scheduling and what they are moving. Pirates can be an issue in the open seas and it is also a bit slower than the overland route.
There are two types of workers in the mines. Those that come there willingly and are hired and those that come from other means. Ghosts are those that sent to the mines to disappear. They often can be nobles from destroyed houses that were enslaved by others and sent north. These people usually don’t last long as their pampered lifestyle is not suited to the hard labor of the mining camps. Others are commoners that cause disruptions, break the more serious laws, defy the Shan or are otherwise an inconvenience to the expected workings and politics that the Shan uphold.
The mines are the only place where people use the word “ghost” without fear of disrupting the royal facade of disappearing Houses. There is no illusion to who the people are that find themselves there. These ghosted workers will end their lives working the mines. Their aren't as many ghosted workers as rumors and fear represent, but there are always some and they are highly valued as their deaths provide a necessary benefit, and a requirement, in certain mines.
It is hard labor but one can make a good living and retire if they survive. While there are no private mines, each mine is ran somewhat independently from the others. Those freemen that are hired work in completely different mines than the ghosts and have adequate work conditions and living quarters of which they can pay out of what they earn.
These free workers are paid in raw materials and it is they who normally sustain the towns. There is a lively trade in these raw materials that are turned in for usable currency. The workers don’t get near what they would be worth inland, but it is usually more than they have ever seen before so they don’t really see the loss. This also enables the towns to grow as the merchants spread their wealth in building their small empires.
The mines are owned by the King. That said, most of the mines are actually privately owned. Each one will have a Guarshan to oversea an area. Each mine is required to give a percentage to the king. The percentage changes per mine, who it represents and the local deal that has been made.
There is a mine, however, in each of the spikes that is completely owned and operated by the Shan and mined only by Ghosts. There is a blanket of secrecy over these areas and no free man has ever entered and returned. Many rumors float around it but none know, truly, what it is. (sub on magic to explain this)