The Kingdom of Kelerak
Table of Contents
The archmage Keler conquered the land that was to be Kelerak, literally "The Offspring of Keler," during the Kingdom Wars, subsuming the indigenous peoples into the Easterners that made up his army, or driving them north. He then took his newly conquered kingdom and divided it up, granting the land to his generals, naming them Earls. Keler reasoned that those noblemen who were willing to die in battle for him would also be loyal to him. To become an Earl, however, the former generals had to swear to be loyal to Keler and to support him economically through taxation and militarily through the raising of soldiers. These Tenant-Lords lightheartedly swore their oath and then retired to their new tracts of land to govern them as they saw fit, regarding themselves almost as kings in their own right when it came to their small demesnes.
The Earls, however, soon discovered that the great size of the tracts gifted by Keler necessitated sub-governance, and thus they named Barons to rule sections of their lands. The Barons were also chosen by Keler because they had distinguished themselves in battle. These vassals swore loyalty to the Earls above them in the same manner that the Earls had sworn loyalty to Keler.
Having sworn an oath to the Earls, these Barons, and the Knights they subsequently appointed, were counted as having sworn an indirect oath to the King. It was their job to maintain law and order, and they were counted on to do their job well or be removed from their positions.
At the bottom of the hierarchy were the serfs or peasants; these hapless souls were given a plot of land by the lord above them, and they were legally required to work it. They could not sell their land or move without permission.
Eventually, however, these Earls grew too powerful. In the year 6080 F.R. the Earls united against King Theobold Keler and nearly dethroned him. The King was ultimately victorious, however, and forever after outlawed the office of Earl, dividing the land into smaller pieces and giving the power directly to the more numerous but individually less powerful Barons, who now became directly responsible to the King himself. The King also retained the power to grant Lordship to his subjects, which he used primarily to raise funds and to secure the loyalty of those he raised to the peerage. These Lords were often granted small tracts of land or villages, but were responsible to the Baron in whose demesne their lands fell. Thus the Kelerite feudal hierarchy became:
Farming dominated the lives of most people in Kelerak's early history and it still does. Most people reside in small farming communities adjacent to ample farmland. Most Kelerite towns are small and dependent upon the agricultural products of outlying villages; Kelerak does have an abundance of large cities for a Western kingdom, and as such farming is even more important. This is one reason that the worship of Bestra, goddess of agriculture, is so important and widespread.
The ruling class makes up about three to four percent of the population. The ruling class are not all titled nobles; it also consists of educated and wealthy merchant families. These merchants are able to work or buy their way into the titled nobility, and because of their economic success, they are usually richer than those who are born into the noble class. These latter individuals know how to be nobles, but they do not know how to grow or maintain their wealth, and as such their fortunes often shrink while those of the new nobility grow-for a few generations at least.
Many of these newly-minted nobles are important to the society of Kelerak because they are the primary moneylenders. While aristocrats and senior clerics sometimes lend money, most of the capital essential for economic growth comes from these merchants. Nobles and the churches tend to spend their wealth on projects that increase their personal prestige, such as larger mansions or temples, and artworks like statuary, while the merchant-nobles fund ventures like mercantile production, shipping, the mining of iron and other precious metals and the crafting of said metals, and military ventures. These projects keep the economy of the kingdom alive.
Although aristocrats are always eager to keep the nobility as elite as possible, the kings of the green throne see their power to create new aristocrats as a valuable method for maintaining loyalty and adding fresh blood to the somewhat stagnant pool of nobles in the kingdom. In the year 8170 F.R., the Baron of Dragonspur and aspiring king of the Green Throne still gives out noble titles in this way, and few people who were previously critical of the powers in Dragonspur leave their peerage ceremony without feeling grateful.
The daily life of the average Kelerite peasant revolves around farming. The most valuable farming tool in the kingdom, besides the magic of the clerics of Bestra or of the occasional friendly druid, is an ox. The average peasant family is unlikely to be rich enough to own one exclusively, however, and thus groups of families often band together to purchase an ox which they can all share. The villagers in this communal group often manually help the people whose turn with the ox has not yet come. Much of this manual work is done with the second most valuable farming tool: the plough, which, while preferably pulled by a beast of burden, can be pulled by hand.
Growing crops is a very tentative affair without magical aid and a successful crop is due to much labor and luck. A village with a powerful resident cleric of Bestra is a lucky one indeed, and likely a rich one. One would think that farmers in the summer (the growing season) would have an easier time of it, but the relatively harsh weather at the somewhat Northern latitude of Kelerak makes farming difficult even then. As a peasant is responsible to his lord for taxes no matter what, even a bad harvest will not excuse him from paying them, and he will have to find another way to make up the missing fees. Most peasants do not pay their dues in coin; rather they pay them in crops or some other form of trade. Of course they can keep what small bit is left of their harvests or profits once they have paid their taxes. Nor can serfs successfully welch on paying, for many estates have a reeve whose job it is to ensure that peasants are honest.
Peasants generally live in wooden-framed houses called Thuck Houses. The walls of these huts are plastered with a mix of mud, straw, and manure, called wattle-and-daub. This mixture, left to dry in the sun once applied, both adds insulation to the house and adds strength and durability to its wood frame. Although Thuck houses are small, their advantage is that they are cheap to construct and repair. The thatched roofs can be patched with straw, which also covers the floor. There are no windows, as the cost of glass is prohibitive; instead the small holes in the frame are covered with thick pieces of cloth. The entire family, as well as their animals, sleeps in one room. The livestock are brought inside for safety from brigands and wandering monsters. The Orcish taste for horsemeat is well known, but orcs will gladly settle for cattle. Moreover, wild animals like wolves and bears lurk in the expansive forests of the kingdom, and these can take a pig or cow as easily as an Orc could. The loss of any animal would be a hardship, but the loss of valuable animals such as an ox would mean the financial ruin of a family.
Towns depend upon a readily available water supply. If water cannot be easily collected from a nearby river or lake, it is often diverted into a town using a series of small canals; pipes are also employed. Water in towns and cities spouts from a fountain pipe. Because the Church of Kantor teaches that water is sacred, bathing is not as much of a rarity as it is in other kingdoms, especially for the rich. A rich person might have a bath one or more times a week, but certainly any bath once drawn is used by every member of a household, even a rich household. Kelerite peasants tend to bathe monthly or bi-monthly, but face and hand washing is quite common. Public bathing is a custom adopted from Farlandish culture, and large cities, like the famous Dragonspur, offer public baths, called "Shivers" because of their temperature, to those who can pay a tin penny for their use. The Shivers, however, also attract thieves from the powerful Thieves' Guilds who steal what they can when the victims are disrobed and when it would be embarrassing to pursue a thief. Many still do, though, and many times the inhabitants of a town have laughed at the sight of a naked man chasing down a thief.
Besides the threat from famine, diseases (such as the Coughing Plague), and wolves or bears, there are worse thing that must be dealt with. Undead are a rare source of danger. Most villages have long taken precautions upon the death of a citizen designed to ensure that the person does not rise again after death. These superstitions and religious rituals are more or less effective (some more than others) and most villages do not have problems with undead, but sometimes evil spirits from the Cold East do manage to infest the corpses of villagers, causing them to walk again. Thus villages are often on the lookout for signs of undead, such as collapsed graves, holes near graves, and people who are inexplicably sick. If a village is infested with undead, the villagers turn to the clergy, a resident paladin, or a brave villager or watchmen to combat the menace.
There is also a threat from wandering monsters. This is also a rare danger, since the kingdom's borders tend to be generally secure. When a monster is discovered, however, villagers turn to the same adventurous individuals to combat the beast. In times of trouble, adventurers' guilds are often founded to serve as protectors of the towns (for pay of course). As the threat is usually ended quickly, either by the guild or armed intervention from the local knight or baron, these guilds often disband as quickly as they are formed.
Most people in Kelerak provide for themselves, finding or growing their own food. Bread is a universal staple. People prefer white bread made from wheat flour. However, only the nobles or the upper class are able to grow the wheat necessary for white bread. Growing wheat takes soil that has been richly fertilized with manure-an expensive proposition-so peasants generally grow barley and rye, crops which thrive in poor soil. Rye and barley produce a heavy, dark bread called Kraton bread. If the harvest of rye and barley is weak, the average serf will throw into his bread dough almost anything he can scavenge, including peas, beans, and acorns.
As well as bread, the people of Kelerak eat a great deal of pottage, a soup or stew made from oats. The types of pottage eaten in Kelerak vary depending on the local tastes. In western Kelerak, the villagers like to add beans and peas, while in the eastern parts of the kingdom different vegetables such as turnips and parsnips are preferred. Leek pottage is popular in the south, but the specific ingredients of this stew depend on what the serf's private garden has yielded.
Most of the meat that peasants eat comes from pigs. There are many advantages to these creatures: they can forage for themselves both in summer and winter, and they can eat almost anything organic. They fatten up on acorns from the forest, a free and plentiful food source. Thus pigs are inexpensive to keep. Most pigs are free-range, and it is a common site to see a group of pigs wandering about the town square of a Kelerite village as if they own the place.
Peasants also consume mutton when they can get it. But sheep and lambs are often thin, small creatures, the choice animals generally having been taken by the Orcish masters during the occupation, and the leftover meat is not highly valued. Only now in the year 8170 are the flocks of sheep in Kelerak beginning to recover. The serfs consume every part of a sheep, even using the blood left over from butchering to make a dish called Kantor's pudding (blood, milk, animal fat, onions, and oatmeal).
Wildlife such as rabbits, turkeys, and deer are plentiful in Kelerak, and one might think that peasants could feast on these animals at their leisure. Hunting these animals would be a grave mistake, however, for these creatures are the property of the local lord, and hunting them is illegal. Many villages do, however, receive permission to hunt "lower" animals such as hedgehogs and squirrels.
Peasants are generally also allowed to fish from their local river, as long as they only harvest grayling, dace, and gudgeon. Because many villages grow up near rivers, fishing is a ready supply of food even in the leanest times. Trout and salmon in the river, though, are property of the lord of the village, who also keeps a fish-pond on his estate stocked with trout. Woe to the peasant who dares steal fish from his lord's pond.
Serfs usually drink water since the rivers have remained more or less unpolluted. Besides water, villagers also drink milk, mostly goat milk and more rarely cow milk. Peasants would prefer to drink beer or ale, but the average peasant can only acquire it on special occasions, because brewing these drinks is a time-consuming and difficult task. The barley in the mix must be soaked for several days and then painstakingly germinated. This creates the malt. The malt is then dried, ground with a pestle, and fermented in hot water. Only then can the ale or beer be consumed. The average peasant cannot sell homebrewed beer without a license. To get permission to sell ale during market day, for example, one needs to apply to the local merchants' guild for a permit.
Food for the rich and poor vary considerably, as would be expected. The rich eat more meat and fruit, and they generally eat more richly. One will rarely encounter a fat peasant, but among the nobility, excess weight is less rare.
Here is set down what Keler, first king and founder of Kelerak, established in consultation with his magnates after the conquest of his new lands. These are the general laws that apply to the entire kingdom, but individual barons often impose their own additional laws.
1. The worship of The Dark Walker under any incarnation is hereby decreed unlawful and punishable by death.
2. It is decreed also that every freeman shall affirm by oath and compact that he will be loyal to the Green Throne both within and without the bounds of Kelerak, that he will preserve the lands and honor of the throne with all fidelity and defend the throne against its enemies.
3. It is willed, moreover, that all the men of Kelerak shall be protected by the king's peace and shall dwell in quiet. And if any one of them shall be slain, let the lord of his murderer seize him within five days, if he can; but if he cannot, let him pay the throne 46 pieces of silver so long as his substance avails.
4. And let there be no unlawful casting of magics, bewitchment, or ensorcellment of any sort. Magic may only be cast beneficially and it may never influence or affect a person of Kelerak against his will on penalty of death.
5. It is forbidden also that any live cattle shall be bought or sold for money except within cities, and this shall be done before three faithful witnesses; nor even anything old without surety and warrant. But if anyone shall do otherwise, let him pay once, and afterwards a second time for a fine.
6. This also is commanded and willed, that all shall have and hold the law of the king in respect of their lands and all their possessions, with the addition of those decrees ordained for the welfare of the Kelerite people.
7. Every man who wishes to be considered a freeman shall be in pledge so that his surety shall hold him and hand him over to justice if he shall offend in any way. And if any such shall escape, let his sureties see to it that they pay forthwith what is charge against him, and let them clear themselves of any complicity in his escape. Let recourse be had to the courts. And those who ought of right to come and are unwilling to appear, shall be summoned once; and if for the second time they refuse to come, one ox shall be taken from them, and they shall be summoned a third time. And if they do not come the third time, a second ox shall be taken from them. But if they do not come the fourth summons, the man who is unwilling to come shall forfeit from his goods the amount of the charge against him -- "ceapgeld" as it is called -- and in addition to this a fine to the king.
8. The sale of any man by another outside the country is prohibited on pain of a fine to be paid in full to the throne.
9. It is also forbidden that anyone shall be slain or hanged unlawfully for any fault. And this command shall not be violated under pain of a fine in full to the throne or upon repeat offenses he himself shall be put to death.
10. Further, it is willed that any non-human wishing to dwell within the realm of Kelerak shall sue for permission to do so and a tax of 4 silver pieces per year shall be levied for this special allowance.
Kelerak has a few cities and towns, but it is largely a kingdom of villages. Most people are village serfs, but religious centers attract pilgrims, and several, most notably Bestraville, have developed into larger communities.
Outside of Dragonspur City and Wyvernia, the largest towns in Kelerak are the fishing cities of West and East-of-Sky, and the religious center of Green City. Because they lie on trade routes or near bountiful natural resources like the Lake of the Sky, these towns attract merchants and traders of all sorts. Green City, of course, attracts pilgrims.
The big market fairs always attract more people to the towns of Kelerak, and as these fairs generally take place in spring or summer, the population of the cities and towns greatly increases during these months.
Besides trade routes, communities organically spring up near large water supplies such as rivers and lakes. Besides water, another pressing need is defense, and many communities, especially the wealthier ones, are enclosed in wooden palisades to keep out brigands, raiding dark folk, and wandering monsters. Cities such as Dragonspur and Wyvernia have stone walls that serve the same purpose, but towns generally cannot afford the expense of constructing walls of stone. The great Dragonspur Wall was breached in the Dark Conquest and parts of it were leveled by the dragon Skywing. It has never been rebuilt, as the Lord of Lust did not see it as a priority.
As trade is the life-blood of many towns, local lords strive to make the community friendly to merchants. After all, these merchants pay taxes and thus enrich the coffers of the lord. Taxes are collected by a sheriff. Because many townsfolk are illiterate, however, the system is rife for corruption. The solution to this corruption is a charter. A charter gives towns the right to collect their own taxes, thus circumventing the problem of corrupt sheriffs. Charters also commonly provide for a court of law so that legal issues can be settled locally.
Towns are rather dirty, because people often empty their privy pots into the streets, and they throw their trash into the gutters as well. This practice spawns multitudes of vermin, such as rats, carrion crawlers, and worse. Moreover, the unsanitary nature of the cities also causes plagues, although the villagers do not realize this fact. The free-roaming pigs do their best to dispose of the refuse by eating it, but they cannot keep up with the volume.
Fire is an ever-present danger in Kelerite towns, as most communities are constructed almost entirely of wood. There are no street lamps in most towns, because of this danger; Kelerite towns lack the common Continual Flame street lights found in the Kingdom of Farland. Thus wandering about in a large town at night can be a dangerous proposition, because of the thieves that exploit the darkness. This causes travelers at night to carry open torches, which can prove to be disastrous.
Construction in a Kelerite city or town is expensive, because land is at a premium. Thus many Kelerite houses have a small ground floor and upper floors that expand outward as they get further from the ground. This is a method for reducing costs, but the overhanging houses often block the sun when one walks down a city street.
As in most feudal societies, guilds are very important in the economic life of Kelerak. A guild is a collection of artisans or craftsmen who form a union to ensure quality of production and fairness of prices, and to keep competition down. Guilds appoint marshals to see that members do indeed maintain their quality and that they do not overcharge or undercharge. Members violating these rules suffer various penalties, from paying a fine, having to do the work over for free, or being expelled from the guild. Since one needs a license from a guild to conduct business in a community, expulsion is a grave punishment. Guilds are not entirely punitive, however; they also see after the families of sick or deceased members.
Achieving membership in a guild is considered an honor, and it is not an easy task. First a potential member must serve as an apprentice for some 15 or more years. During apprenticeship, the young man is expected to remain single, to work only for room and board, and to give up any leisure time. In return, the youth is instructed by a master craftsman. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, the person is made a journeyman guild member. He now works for a wage in hopes of saving enough to start his own business.
As mentioned, only members of guilds or their licensees can sell their wares within the community. The exceptions to this, though, are market days. During market days, non-guild members may engage in business, as long as they remain within the designated market square. For this reason, market days attract great amounts of people from the surrounding countryside.
Unfortunately, Kelerak inherited from the Eastern Kingdoms the tradition of powerful thieves' guilds. These organized crime syndicates vary in power depending on their membership and the personal power of their leader. They engage in very many illegal activities, ranging from extortion through stealing and fencing to assassination.
It was fortunate for Brathelathor the disorganized Lord of Lust that the feudal system of Kelerak had been firmly in place and running smoothly for over a thousand years. The Lord of Sin changed little about the system; he merely substituted himself as King and his Orcish War bosses, or Hoths, as the Lords of the system. Of course the average Orcish foot soldier, or dog, enjoyed a station above any human serf or peasant in the Kingdom. Acts of rapine and violence by the foot soldiers were only moderately discouraged and became somewhat commonplace.
The Lord of Lust also rewarded his commanders with the land of the conquered Kelerite, slaying and taking the manors and castles of the original occupants. Some of these occupants became serfs or slaves, or were slain. Other noble families retained their station, after offering a substantial bribe as well as swearing allegiance to the Lord of Lust.
The Deadly Lord also began cultivating Lotus and selling it very cheaply to the populous as an easy method of enforcing docility on large masses of people. This strategy was never very successful, however, and once the kingdom was liberated, the production of lotus was all but stopped by unanimous consent. However, the lotus-addicted beggar lolling in the street is still an unfortunate sign of the Dark Occupation.
For the average citizen, life under the Dark Occupation became nearly unbearable as he now had to contend with less land, the rampages of Orcish soldiers and the incessant in-fighting between the Orcish bosses, and the corruption within the system. And while used to serfdom, the idea of being owned by an orc boss added to the humiliation of the population. These terrible living conditions only ensured the existence of a healthy resistance in most cities or towns.
Once the kingdom was liberated, many of the barons attempted to reinstitute the ancient feudal system-- with themselves at its head. This civil war, coupled with the looming threat of reoccupation from the Dark Forces in the East, is causing Kelerak, for the first time in its long existence, to face the possibility of extinction as a kingdom.
The total area of the baronies that used to make up the Kingdom of Kelerak is 30,000 square miles.
The total current population is approximately 990,000 persons because of the harsh realities of the dark occupation. This population is much less than the approximately 2,000,000 inhabitants the Kingdom can and did support in its heyday. Roughly 98% of the current population is human. The remainder are dark folk, like orcs and goblins.
- 21,080 residents are isolated or itinerant; many of these are dark folk.
- 805,820 residents live in 1958 villages.
- 69,400 residents live in 12 towns.
- 49,700 residents live in 6 cities (East and West-of-Sky, Green City, Wyvernia, Jacob's Rock, and Dessingrove). 44,000 residents live in 1 big city (Dragonspur City).
- 1,481,040 fowl (e.g. chickens, geese, ducks).
- 696,960 dairy and meat animals (e.g. cows, goats, pigs, sheep).