Author’s Note: Map is courtesy of the website Inkarnate, which is a great tool for creating fantasy maps.
While not a Free City in its own right, Shalefort is still considered by many of the Free Cities to be an important outpost in Northwestern Aredain due to its strategic location between the Wyrmtooth and the Icefang Mountains. The fortress itself, a citadel surrounded by thick walls that shelter both itself and the nearby Shaletown, is a vital defensive point against the northern realm of Fryslon and has never fallen. It has commonly seen off armies of marauders, reavers, and other raiders/bandits, and in times of great crisis its walls are capable of holding the entirety of its neighboring countryside with stores that can feed its extended populace for two years. As a citadel of importance it is commonly allied and aided by the Free Cities of Reddport and Stonegate.
The original fortress was built initially as an outpost, though who built the outpost is still a question up for debate. Some claim that it was originally one of the many failed colonies of Tyrenmor that had been abandoned due to hostilities with local Elf populations or due to the difficulty in developing sustainable farms due to the region’s poor soil and difficult terrain. Others claim that the fortress was built by Aryaavaden, though this has been debated due to the old Wood Elf kingdom’s traditional borders, which have always been south of the Wyrmtooth Mountains even during its height. Still others think that it could be of Dwarven construction, though this theory has little backing.
Shalefort gained importance with the coming of colonists from the Isles of Redd in Fryslon. Said colonists were attempting to escape the turmoil of the region due to the increased number of pirate and raider activity as well as the struggles of dealing with the influx of refugees that came from Tyrenmor during the beginning of the Second Era. Most of the colonists made their way to what is now Reddport, though a few settled along the coast and established moderate fishing villages, which would later grow to become the three coastal towns of the region. Eventually settlers coming from Stonegate would begin to intermix with the local Reddmen and Fryss, creating the human populace recognized in the region today.
When raiders began making their way south along the Great Northern Road and pirate activity began to climb to new heights within the Sea of Tyren, both Aredain and Reddport saw the need to defend the northern coastline, as it acted as both a buffer and a gateway that would lead into greater Aredain. While early Stonegate was being fortified with its massive wall, construction of the Shalefort began over the foundations of the old outpost. By Year 220 of the Second Era the Shalefort’s citadel and first wall was built, with construction of its secondary wall and the nearby Shaletown coming underway. Officially Shalefort was loyal to the Crown of Aredain, while unofficially its houses answered to nearby Reddport which helped to keep it stocked, manned, and supplied from its vantage in the sea.
Shalefort was dealing with raider incursions during the Fall of the Second Era, and so its garrison could not come to aid the Broken Crown during the War with the Sorcerer King.
The Shalefort has passed hands many times over the centuries, though today it is ruled over by House Shayle, formerly of Reddport. Though not a Free City of its own, it is included in their roster as it is heavily reliant on the trade of the nearby cities of Reddport, Scalehold, and Stonegate, and otherwise functions as an independent entity. The Shalefort is perhaps the last existing form of the old Aredani government from the Second Era that is still kept in operation, though it does not involve itself in the politics of the Petty Kingdoms.
As a former Reddport house, House Shayle keeps close ties with their former liege lords, the Reddmars, and occasionally sends sons to squire and daughters to wed the Reddmar houses. This continued reliance on House Reddmar is both House Shayle’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness, for while it can always rely on the resources that Reddport has to offer it will likely never extend its strength beyond their current holdings. House Shayle’s standard is composed of a gray castle composed of three towers linked by a wall, behind it a slab of dark-gray stone, together over a sky-blue field. The current head of their household is Jared Shayle, the Lord Commander of the Shalefort.
House Shayle’s predecessors, House Stonne of the Shalefort, was briefly considered as a replacement candidate for the crown during the tentative peace following the establishment of the Third Era. This came to an end during the failed Council of Duskend. For its part in the infighting, House Stonne was evicted from the Shalefort and its titles were given to House Shayle instead.
The region surrounding Shalefort has a varied populace, though it largely consists of Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. The races of the region are as follows, according to the highest number of their populace:
- Humans of Reddmen descent are considered among the highest population numbers, due to being the original settlers of the region. Reddmen are a minor subrace of humans native to Fryslon, calling the Isles of Redd their home, and are noted for their stocky build and strikingly crimson hair color, often remarked as the color of blood. Houses Shayle, Reddstone, and Pebble are of Reddmen descent.
- Humans of Aredani descent are the second highest in population, given that the region is part of the Realm of Aredain. Most of these are settlers that came up the Causeway and called the region home, though others also came from Reddport and Scalehold. Many of the merchant families in the region are of Aredani descent. Aredani are characterized by their darker hair and longer lifespan due to having intermarried with Elves in Aredain’s past. House Mander is a house of Aredani descent.
- Humans of Fryss descent are the least common, their numbers largely consisting of settlers in outlying villages and in the Frostforest. Given its closeness to the Great North Road many Fryss wanderers manage to peacefully find their way in the region and come to settle, and despite initial hostilities they tend to get along peacefully with the locals. Fryss are characterized by their bulky size, blue eyes, and hair that ranges in color from blonde to fiery red to brown, and are the endemic human race in Fryslon.
- Bronze Dwarves are the most common of their kind in the region, with most claiming to have settled there during the First Era after being driven out of their ancestral homes. Some Dwarf-make ruins dot the region and are still full of some treasures that many hierarchs of Bronze Dwarf families wish to reclaim. Bronze Dwarves compose a large working populace comparable with the Aredani populace in the region, and mostly make their homes in Frostforest, Kingsdagger, and the various villages dotting the nearby mountains. Bronze Dwarves are characterized by their tan skin, as well as their often melancholy demeanor.
- Far from common, Gray Elves do occasionally settle in small communities at the foot of the mountains, mostly exiles or ambassadors from their hidden enclaves in the Icefang and Wyrmtooth Mountains. They do what they can to stay away from local politics, though occasionally they provide their aid in terms of the magical or medicinal arts. A healing cleric of the Firstborn Gods who resides in the church in Shalefort is a Gray Elf of some age. Gray Elves are characterized by their gray skin of varying shades, their silver-blonde hair, and their general disassociation with other races born of their xenophobic culture.
Of other races local to the region, a small populace of Half-Elves of Wood Elf descent, Half-Orcs, and a tribe of Pinehorn Satyr native to the Frostforest dwell in the region.
Though the Shalefort relies heavily on trade for survival, it can still count on the resources of the local area to survive for a time on its own, and its granaries are capable of holding an excess of stored grain in the event of a siege. Very little in the way of arable crops can grow in the region surrounding Shalefort, due to the fact that the mountainous soil is too poorly to grow food when it isn’t covered in snow. However some of the towns make do with simple farms that grow highland crops such as beets, onions, and potatoes. One town, Kingsdagger, is home to a modest tobacco plantation which is used to provide pipe smoke to locals and is occasionally traded to the cities of Stonegate and Scalehold. Kingsdagger Tobacco is described as being incredibly rich and harsh, and capable of making unexperienced smokers dizzy. It has an acquired taste.
The three fishing towns of Shaleport, Iceford, and Wyrmford provide the Shalefort with large quantities of seafood which are carted to the city in ice carts and smoked or otherwise preserved in the Shalefort’s ice vaults, located under the citadel. The three towns grew up from the original fishing villages that were colonized by Reddmen fleeing south, and so have always held great ties to Reddport. There are no noble houses who claim the towns, though various rich merchant families often act in their stead and represent the towns in times of crisis.
North of Shaleport along the northern bank of the Maiden River where it meets the sea is the Maiden Tower, one of the first lines of naval defense against potential pirate incursions. It is a simple tower keep with arrow slits and a portcullis that can be used to bar its main door, and is surrounded by a low wall. Its smallfolk live in a village surrounding the tower called the Maiden’s Coif. There are no roads leading to the Maiden Tower; travel is instead done by ferry up the Maiden River to the village of Maiden’s Ferry, or by boat down the coast towards Shaleport. It is lorded over by a landed knight, Sir Brenden, and his household, who take the maiden tower as their sigil.
North of the town of Iceford, sitting upon the Ice River’s northern bank where it meets to sea, sits the Ice Tower. Like the Maiden Tower, the Ice Tower functions much in the same way. Due to its location near the Iceford it has much better defenses, including an outer wall that can hold a garrison and a barracks in its interior. It can summon a host of 100 men, not including those in the town who may send their weak and defenseless into the tower for protection. It is lorded over by a landed knight, Sir Gregory, and his household. They take a leaping fish over a field of ice as their sigil.
North of the town of Wyrmford, sitting on the bank of the Wyrmsbreath River where it meets the sea, sits the Wyrm Tower. Of the three towers, the Wyrm Tower is the largest and perhaps the best defended, as it sits upon a small cliff overlooking the beach where the river meets the sea, and unlike the other two towers it can be easily accessed by Wyrmford via a nearby bridge that sits three leagues away. The Wyrm Tower is nearly a castle in its own right, and can hold a garrison of 250 men when fully manned. It is lorded over by a landed knight, Sir Jorge, and his household. They take an Ice Wyrm for their sigil.
The town of Kingsdagger sits south of the Shalefort, serving to supply the fort with quarried stone, iron ore, and turf which is necessary to shore up Shaletown’s defenses with primitive earthen palisades in times of crisis. Kingsdagger is also home to a tobacco plantation owned by a merchant family, the Kingsfords, who sell their tobacco abroad as well as to the local community. Kingsdagger is considered infamous due to the fact that it was said to be where a king had been assassinated during the Second Era; which king, and why he was killed, is as yet unknown. The Kingsfords act as the ruling family in the town, though they have yet to be knighted or made lords.
The Shaletown itself is a town expanse that surrounds the eastern side of the Shalefort, and through it passes the crossroads that lead to the rest of the region as well as the Causeway, a great road of paved stones that leads to the Great North Road leading to Stonegate. Most of its smallfolk serve as repair workers to help maintain the citadel, its keep, and its surrounding walls, though a fair few do what they can to farm the land and raise herds of goats. The Shaletown becomes its fullest during the cold winters when smallfolk from Forestforest and the villages north of the Maiden River come seeking shelter. A small keep exists in Shaletown, which is the home of House Pebble, sworn to House Shayle, who officially rule over the town though in practice grant its rule to the Shayles. They dress their banners with a gray tower upon a blue field.
Frostforest is the most northern of the towns loyal to the Shalefort. It sits beside the pine and fir forest from which it gets its name, and from it they harvest timber and gather furs and game to supplement the local diet and to sell to the highborn nobility. Frostforest is occasionally called, “The Unlucky Town,” and “Winter’s Breath,” because it is located near a mountain pass through the Icefangs that makes it an easy target for raiders, while its location near the mountains often causes the town to be among the first places affected by the coming winter. Frostforest is lorded over by House Mander, who are sworn to House Shayle. They dress their banners with a black pine tree upon a blue field.
Across the Causeway sits the castle known as Causeway Keep, the home of House Reddstone, who are sworn to House Shayle. The Causeway Keep acts as the first line of defense for the Causeway road in the event of an attack by a large army, though in practice it rarely has ever had to worry about its role. To assure its defense, the Causeway passes through the walls of the keep which exist both to provide a toll for coming merchants and to ensure no illegal goods exit the region into the rest of Aredain, as well as provide an immediate defense for the road. Next to House Shayle, House Reddstone is perhaps the most powerful of the noble houses in the region, and loyal bannermen to the Shayles, though some suspect they would prefer the higher position of the Shalefort. They dress their arms with a red road curving upon a gray field, the road representing the Causeway.