- Location: Eastern Continent, Northern Kingdoms
- Government Hereditary Monarchy
- Primary Species: Human
- Founded: Third Day (Part of Caonach during First and Second days)
The Marchen Woods lie at the furthest extent of human reach. The King of Marchen reigns over these lands, by the grace of the High Queen. Characterized by imposing mountains, shadowed vales, and rare meadows, these woods have been the site of countless battles—mortal against mortal, mortal against elf, and mortal against the fey themselves.
Three generations ago, Prince Geir gathered reckless nobles and ambitious freemen from across the Northern Kingdom and led them through the Hinterlands and over the river Eibbenflow to claim the fertile plains and woods from the Huldra. Clad and armed in the iron that is bane to all fey, the knights burst through the forests and pushed the wood elves all the way across the plains to the foothills and up to the mountains. But in those forests, Geir’s knights were ambushed and ensnared. Prince Geir himself was killed in battle, leaving the expedition leaderless.
Demoralized by the loss of their monarch the knights were assailed anew by the wood elves. Desperate for help, Geir’s greatest champion, Isbrand, sent a messenger to the City by the Sea. Queen Regina IV called the Northern Kingdoms to arms. Reinforcements went out and in a series of decisive battles the humans drove the last elves over the mountains. At the highest mountain pass, Isbrand challenged and slew the Caonach King in single combat.
Before the rest of the Northern Kingdoms could react, Isbrand crowned himself the first king of the new nation of Marchen, and swore fealty to the High Queen and the Edict of Eric. Gloriana recognized the new kingdom, and humans began settling the former Huldra lands.
Arkaley A small village at the furthest edges of Yorlen’s lands.
Caonach Vale A mist shrouded valley just over the mountains, where mortal authority wanes, and the Bitter King holds sway.
Fern Crossing A traveler’s way station at the crossing of two rivers.
Geirrfast King Isbrand III’s capitol city
Yorlen The westernmost hold of Marchen
The First Day
The Huldra chose the Mortal World as their home. While they spread out across the East and some even traveled to the West, most of them gathered together in a moss-covered valley, a forest dark and tall even when the Four Kingdoms were young. They named their homeland Caonach, and spread along the mountains of the valley, towards the Ocean, shunning the colder lands to the East and the open fields of the West.
While the Caonach Vale remained their seat of power, many Huldra families spread out into the Woods of Marchen. Dark and haunted by fairy creatures both fair and foul, the forests were a dangerous place for those unacquainted with woodlore. It suited the Huldra just fine.
Even in those days, the great fairy Nuinn was Lord of Thorns. The Huldra knew his domain and treated carefully with the Man with Roots for Boots.
Great King Magen
Human tribes and settlements always sprung up along the fertile lands to the west of the eibbenflow river, but the hinterlands, a particularly dark and marshy stretch of forests, formed a natural barrier. Humans feared the lands beyond, calling them haunted and fairy-kept. With their magic, the Huldra did little to dissuade these fears.
Those who stumbled into Huldra lands met uncertain fates. Some were kept, for humans were still strange to the Children of Dusk. Others were slain, bewitched, seduced, perhaps released.
But King Geben took the scattered settlements and bound them under his will. Galadron was an uneasy neighbor for the Huldra of Marchen. Braver now, clad in iron, warriors and soldiers sometimes sortied out into the lands of the Huldra. The Caonach Kings did not see fit to recognize their human Cousins, never openly treating with Galadron as a sovereign nation. There are stories of Galadronian heroes who speak with the Caonach King, but their veracity is unknown. Most of these tales certainly take place in Marchen, not in the Vale itself.
Tensions continued to grow as the two species went from strangers to rivals.
The Second Day
Word reached the lands of Marchen—the Human Kings had perished. Now the smaller kings and queens fought over the corpse. The first kings of Borgondhi declared themselves rulers of the lands East of Seolach. In this time, the Huldra decided to test the mettle of this new king.
Raiders left the treelines of Marchen by cover of night, stealing and raiding the humans of Borgondhi. Though the Huldra considered it a test, an act of subterfuge, a small sideline, the Borgondhi records mark this as the great Elf Wars. They built a twisted edifice of Iron spikes—The Tower of Nails—and hunted elves throughout the woods.
This conflict at the borders came to a halt when the Quest for the Book of Dawn returned to Galadron Across-The-Waters. For now the humans could wield the power of the Alfar, the magic of wizardry. Galadron held the Elven Withdrawal as a sign of reverence, and lorded it over the rebellious Borgondhi King.
The Dragon Wars
Elam-Okarthel was wise enough to fly over the Caonach Lands, far beyond the reach of their King’s mystic power. Still, the Huldra in Marchen hid in their secret villages as flight upon flight of dragon-riding sorcerers passed above. The destructive power of Elam did not leave Marchen entirely unscathed, but the Resplendent Emperor sought no quarrel with the Huldra.
In the aftermath of the first Dragon War, Huldra raiders became braver, stealing into the war-wracked lands of Borgondhi. There are tales of refugees fleeing into the woods of Marchen and being healed by Huldra magic, then returned with no memory of where they traveled. Some Huldra druids and healers did offer solace to the wartorn humans.
The Dragons of the Second War were less discriminatory. Though their wrath focused on Galadron, some of them descended upon Marchen. Green Dragons in particular could not resist the taste of elven flesh or the terrified fealty of huldra slaves. Marchen found itself beset by dragons, but the Paladins of Gisirgis came to protect their lands.
What followed was even worse—the Bale, when the Dread Wyrm Chaun usurped the Underworld from Ramius. But though to the humans it seemed that Chaun’s power spread across the world, in reality only those souls who perished in the Northern Kingdom were subject to his wrath. The power of the Caonach Kings rose up against the Dragon, containing Chaun’s reign to the underworld of the Northern Kingdoms.
Since the Huldra do not go to the same fate as Humans when they die, the Bale was a horror glimpsed from afar, not something they experienced firsthand. Still, the Huldra were wary. They treated refugees with suspicion, but not all the Kings and Queens of Marchen refused them. No child of Dusk could look on the horrors of the Bale and be unmoved.
The Emankorrak Migrations
During the Catastrophic Elements, earthquakes and beasts from below ravaged Emankorrak, draining its rivers into the earth. A great exodus from the Steppes tried to pass through Marchen. The Caonach King forbade it, shrouding them in magic and deception, preventing them from passing. He would not suffer the secret ways of his lands to be learned, lest the humans share this news with others and bring Iron-Clad Knights upon his people.
So when the Emankor refuges arrived in Borgondhi, they brought with them tales of a wood filled with terrors, a desperate journey along haunted and cruel mountains, where Giants snatched and hurled their people for sport. They told of the twisted spells of Caonach that fell on them, the Huldra arrows that struck their feet when they strayed from the mountains in search of food or shelter. These stories remained in the folklore of the Northern Kingdoms for centuries to follow.
The New Day
It is said that Dîrtirith Halril came to the Huldra when Eleanor returned to the land of her birth. What dealings he had with them are secret, for he went also to Skjult Grotto and spoke with the elusive and feared Dokkalfar. Caonach
All of Caonach and Marchen trembled when a new star rose with the Dawn. They felt the passage of the old day and the rise of the new when Blessed Child raised her arms from the far Western shores, welcoming the light of the sun across the Bulwarks. Everywhere the light touched, the dead rested, the long curse of Chaun broken.
The High Queen
Soon Gloriana rose in the west, sending out her emissaries to establish dominion amongst all the Northern Kingdoms. Borgondhi and Lyteri submitted quickly. In contrast with years past, the Queen sent a messenger across the Eibbenflow, to speak with the “King of Elves.”
The Caonach King did not meet their expedition, but spoke through the river, through the trees and beasts. His warning was clear: The Noon Children dwell in the West, the Peoples of Dusk in the East. Though the Child Star had come to them, the Huldra wanted nothing of their new faith. No formal treaty was signed, simply the word of Caonach itself.
So the Huldra reigned in Marchen for many years.
The Invasion of Marchen
But the old Emankor legends did not fade. Tales of beautiful forests, forbidden by the Cruel Woodfolk, floated through Borgondhi for generation upon generation. Nearly eight centuries after the Herald of Gloriana was warned at the Eibbenflow, an upstart prince of Lyteri, eight steps away from the throne, grew enamored of these legends. He saw no future for himself in the League of Chieftains, no future but soft luxury and idleness.
Prince Geirr dreamed of iron, of lumber, of rolling fields, oaths of fealty, wealth, adventure, and eternal glory. Ever the tales of Marchen loomed in these dreams. So he left behind his castles in Degol, made for himself a banner, and traveled the Northern Kingdom spreading tales of unparalleled wealth and freedom to be had across the Eibbenflow.
In time he gathered a great host of iron-clad knights, excitable freemen, sell swords and disenfranchised noble scions. They sounded their horns at the river Eibben and charged across.
The tale of the Conquest of Marchen is fraught with bloodshed. In those dark woods, the Huldra were the masters, hunting and harassing them from all sides, assailing them with their magic. But Geir’s host was not daunted, despite considerable losses. They had magi of their own, and iron shields proved strong in battle.
They descended upon the Huldra villages and burned their homes, killing those who dwelt there as vengeance for their slain kin. Battles were won and lost on both sides, but the Iron Host pushed onward, driving the Huldra before them, corpse by bloody corpse.
The Death of Geir
Geir and his warriors conquered the lands from the shores of the Shining Sea to the Bulwark Mountains. There, they fell at last into a trap—so close to the heart of Huldra power, the Vale, Caonach’s might reached them at last. The woods around them rebelled, the wild animals turned on them in droves, and Geir and most of his host were slain. Terrified, the other mortals turned and fled, seeking refuge back across the Eibennflow, but the King’s wrath was relentless. They found themselves lost in woods that shifted as they went, picked apart by fairies and beasts.
In the Northern Kingdoms, the tale is told that the Iron Host’s valor and prowess carried them close to victory. Little wondered is why the Caonach King did not crush them the moment they entered the lands of his dominion, across the Eibbenflow. Did his power wane? Was he drawn away by dark portents, powerful foes, matters of the heart? The truth is little known.
The Song of Isbrand
With the invaders trapped, the Caonach King extracted vengeances for his slain people, hounding, hunting and killing the humans one by one. But one messenger escaped his clutches, and some months later, as only a single company of warriors remained, bled and fearful, horns sounded along the Eibbenflow once more. Knights of the Pendant, Vanguards of Borgondhi, Lyteri Pikemen and Gloriana’s champions crossed the waters to rescue the beleaguered warriors within.
They cut through the Caonach spells and creatures, retracing the bloody path of Geir, and united with Isbrand, last of Geir’s inner circle. Now reinforced and reinvigorated, they charged for the Vale itself, climbing the Bulwark Mountains.
Here, at last, the Caonach King could brook no further insult. In person he came to stand upon the mountain, and Isbrand met him.
Impossibly, the Caonach King was slain in single combat. Despite the powers imbued in him by all the wilds of the Vale, Isbrand’s iron sword cleaved his chest. All the huldra cried out in woe, for their slain kin and their fallen King. With the Caonach Power gone, and the huldra people slain, Marchen no longer fell under the mantle of Dusk.
King Isbrand I
With barely any time for his victory to settle, Isbrand marched back to the river Eibben, stood by the sea, and held a Coronation for himself. It is said that a Priest of Our Triumphant Family presided over and blessed the ceremony, and by this validation and by swearing the oath of Fealty to Gloriana and the Edict of Eric, Isbrand made the crowning as official as possible.
When word reached Queen Regina IV in the City-By-The-Sea, Isbrand had already granted noble titles to his bravest or most prominent supporters. Baronies were drawn out and chartered, coinage was being minted, and the banners of Marchen flew out across the Hinterlands. He moved so quickly, neither Lyteri nor Borgondhi seized an acre of Land. The new kingdom of Marchen stretched from the Hinterlands in the West, the shining Sea in the South, and the Bulwarks to the North and East. Geir’s dream of conquest beyond the Eibbenflow paled in comparison to the seize of Isbrand’s new kingdom.
Queen Regina IV traveled to Isbrand’s fledgling capitol of Geirfast in person. The kings of Borgondhi and Lyteri waited for her to denounce the upstart, declare him a traitor, and seize his lands.
Instead, the Queen accepted his Oath of Fealty, amended the Edict, and blessed the new kingdom of Marchen. No protestation of King Joralemon II or the Duke of the Western Lowlands could sway her. Marchen was here to stay.
King Isbrand II
The days to follow were not simple. Huldra raiders still snapped at the edges of Marchen, bringing death and fear to those attempting to build settlements in their ancient lands. King Joralemon II was bound by the Edict of Eric and could not declare open war, but robber barons, mercenaries and warlords somehow found their way to the Hinterlands, plaguing the western borders of the fledgling nation.
Isbrand I lived a fairly long life, for a warrior, and instructed his son, Isbrand II, before passing away. The transition of the young crown was a test for Marchen, as neighboring kingdoms, vengeful huldra, ogres and other beasts all seized on this moment to strike.
To answer the threat of the Border Wars, Isbrand II granted knighthoods to dangerous warriors and tough leaders, granting them fiefdoms in the most troubled regions of his kingdom. He had a good eye for mettle and so Ursi Arcistoth was one of the first to earn land and a title. Calchester, already established by that time, became her seat of power, and Isbrand II provided funds to construct Arcistoth Keep overlooking the town.
By the time of Isbrand II’s death, the early villages and settlements of Marchen had grown into small cities. Trade and safe passage were stronger each day. The Kingdom still had a long distance to grow, but it seemed on a prosperous trajectory.
The Princess and the Dragon
After years of trying to undermine their new neighbors, King Ralzemon von Borgondhi sent an envoy of friendship to Isbrand II. He proposed uniting their families, establishing an eternal bond between their kingdoms, leaving their enmity in the past. To seal the alliance, Helena von Borgondhi, Ralzemon’s youngest daughter, was betrothed to Isbrand’s son, Isbrand Von Marchen III.
When Helena was of age, the throne had passed to young Isbrand III. He sent an envoy including his master painter, Thander, to capture his bride-to-be’s likeness, preparing for the eventual wedding. For a fortnight Thander labored in Vercinget, painting with deft art and befriending the princess during his stay. But on his journey back, he vanished.
Lest the King of Marchen’s interest cool, Ralzemon sent his daughter in person, to meet her husband-to-be in the city of Geirfast. Helena abandoned the expedition and snuck away to find Thander in the Hinterlands. There, she fell afoul of Thander’s captor, the green dragon Zonthul.
Zonthul kept both princess and painter in his enchanted realm until they managed to escape with the unlikely help of Nabac An’Angren, a Huldra Prince. Upon their safe return to Vercinget, Ralzemon demanded an accounting of Helena’s actions. Not only did she refuse to answer, she also refused to marry King Isbrand III. Her raging father locked her up until she changed her mind.
Nabac returned to her on emerald wings, and even as negotiations proceeded between Marchen and Borgondhi, she was found with child. This voided the terms of the treaty between the Kingdoms, leaving Ralzemon wroth with both his daughter and his neighbor king. He sent his daughter away to Cloistered Abbey for the rest of her days. When her young daughter, Aine, was born, she was raised by her mother’s handmaidens, the Sisters of Brave Mother, and by the ladies of the court. Though not an outcast, she bore the burden of a bastard birth, and never had a true place in the Borgondhi Courts.
Meanwhile, Isbrand III found a different bride, a scion of Lyteri, and soon gave birth to his only daughter, Otillia von Marchen.
The Death of Iommor
Even as Aine was born, the skinchanger Iommor came over the Bulwark Mountains. In the guise of a great white bear he attacked villages, devoured hunters, and destroyed the works of Marchen. As the toll ran higher, the lord of those lands rode out to protect her people. Songs hold that Ursi Arcistoth slew Iommor in a mist filled mountain pass, like King Isbrand I before her.
The Abduction of Princess Otilia
When she turned 13, Goblins crept into the palace of Geirfast and stole Otillia von Marchen from her room. Her father summoned all his knights and sent them out to find her. They journeyed through forests, under sunken mounds, from the Hinterlands to the Bulwarks, but could not find her.
It was his own brother, Prince Barasko von Marchen, who led the greatest champions of the land and found the enchanted tower where the princess was kept. He scaled the tower, crushed its guardians with hands and sword, and brought the Princess back, walking so she could ride instead.
Ever since then, the Princess’ flights of fancy and strange manner have sobered. The courtiers of Marchen speak softly of her plight, imagining the horrors she endured in goblin custody. Still, she remains beloved by the people of the land, charming and wise beyond her years.