Friday, 17 June 2022

On King Cralstag

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein

Old King Cralstag
Does Old King Cralstag deserve a dedicated post? Probably not. He has only one mention in all of the sourcebooks. But I believe he does warrant more than a mention—here, at least—; King Orvung was treated to a post, after all, and he was only mentioned by name twice. That said, Ovrung ruled the Kingdom of Schnai in the time of both the Folio and the Wars, whereas Cralstag did not. Indeed, Cralstag Gunnarsenn passed beyond the pale a few years prior to 576 CY—so I presume, so I decree. I do believe though that that singular mention is important enough that I would be remiss if I did not shed some light on Cralstag and his rule. His death is pivotal in Cruski’s recent history, after all: It shapes his successor’s worldview.
What might we infer from his single mention? Insight. Arrogance. Hubris? Courage? Foolhardiness? Perhaps all these.
Beyond his scant mention, one might glean much from what occurred during his reign. And beforehand. Maybe more might be learned from what is said about his people and his kingdom, its past and its present. And where he reigned.
Up in these northern latitudes, the sun comes up for only a short time each day. At most, three hours of sunlight illuminates the frozen landscape. There are about two hours of twilight, and the rest of the day is spent in darkness. However, the stars are unusually bright, allowing some limited sight. [WGS2 – 16]
Cruski is remote. Isolated. Cold. A narrow strip of land, betwixt tall mountains, and deep blue seas, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the civilized world, where the elements appear as great a danger to life and limb as any monster the heartiest of adventurers might encounter. Except those who dwell there face as many monsters as any heroes anywhere, mayhap more, given how far Cruski is from any “taming” influences.
The civilized can only wonder what might dwell and lurk so far from any place of consequence, what some might presume the end of the oerth.

As I said, the deep blue sea:
Solnor Ocean:
The Solnor ("birthplace of the sun" in Old Oeridian) is believed to be the mightiest of Oerth's four oceans. [LGG – 149]
It is said the Solnor reaches for a thousand leagues and more eastward. […] Great monsters dwell in the Solnor and sport in Grendep Bay when the sun warms the waters there. [WoGA – 42,43]
A huge clockwise current sweeps up the coast of the eastern Flanaess, carrying ships from the Thillonrian Peninsula out to sea, and bringing curious debris (doubtless from whatever land is on the Solnor's far side) to the shores, of Hepmonaland and the Lordship of the Isles. [LGG – 149, 150]
Solnor Ocean: Kraken, Walruses [FtAR#11]

And towering mountains:
The ice-capped Corusk Mountains are the backbone of the Thillonrian Peninsula. [LGG – 142]
The Corusks form a bow, the backbone of the Thillonrian Peninsula which runs from the Solnor Ocean in the east, north and west and then southwest where the range terminates (Hraak Pass). While the lower parts of the mountains are inhabited by humans, various bands of evil humanoids and monsters of all sorts dwell in the central fastness. [WoGA – 52]
While the lower reaches are farmed with difficulty by humans, giants, ogres, trolls, and other monsters dwell in the central fastness. Monsters are less numerous farther east, but freezing fogs sweep down from the heights to threaten travelers. [LGG – 142]
It is thought that this range possesses little in the way of valuable ores or gems. [WoGA – 52]

To the north lies the great ice, ice presumably without end.
The Icy Sea
Icy Sea:
The Solnor sweeps northward around the Thillonrian Peninsula and ends in the Icy Sea. [WoGA – 47]
These northern waters, likely a part of the circumpolar Dramidj Ocean, remain frozen except in high summer. [LGG – 148]
Even in summer the Icy Sea can be dangerous due to thick fogs and floating mountains of ice. [WoGA – 47]
Whales of all sorts frequent these waters, said to be the domain of a mighty leviathan lord. Ice Barbarians take their ships into these waters to hunt whales and collect walrus ivory and seal furs on the surrounding coasts. [LGG – 148,149]
Icy Sea: Killer Wales, Walruses [FtAR#11]
Rurszek: Flowing from a frigid cave at the base of the northern Corusks, this slow-running river empties into the Aldefjord north of Jotsplat. [LGG – 152]

Big Seal Bay: This shallow arm of the Icy Sea has long marked the boundary between Stonehold and the Ice Barbarians kingdom. Natives camp in the forest and hunt seal in the summer months. Few humans visit the desolate eastern bay, though the chiseled outer doors of an ancient dwarven clanhold are said to be visible high in the Corusk peaks. [WGG 3e – 26]
What’s that? An ancient dwarven clanhold? No dwarf that I know has ever uttered a word on their ever settling the northern face of the Corusks. Could this be a myth?

One expects all manner of polar beasts. And one would be correct in that. Bears, arctic fox; arctic char, and leopard seals; and whales, most notably that unicorn of the sea, the fabled horned narwhal. The sight of white dragons taken wing is not uncommon; yet there are other far more mysterious things that might be met upon the ice.

Nauskiree are tall, bizarre monsters thought to have migrated to the northern Flanaess from Telchuria before the twin Cataclysms, figuring into old Flannae tales of that region. Solitary hunters, they act much like trap-door spiders, hiding for long periods of time until prey approaches, then striking out with magic and teeth. Although they hunt alone, they are sometimes enslaved by frost giants and used as guardians.
Nauskiree appear almost bipedal, their torsos being larger than their pelvis. However, their extremely long limbs and greater weight on their forward half make it hard for them to lift both forelimbs for more than a moment, and so the creature gets about on all fours. Its skin is gnarled like bark, and coloured in a random pattern od dark gray and white that resembles snow clinging to the trunk or branches of a tree. Its skull-like head and some of its joints are surrounded by stringy gray hair resembling dead grass or pine needles. [LGJ#1 – 22]
To come upon one is almost certain doom. A deathly cold cling to them, and those who stray too close are stricken by it, their limbs torpid, their minds clouded with confusion. [LGJ#1 – 22]

Despite its remoteness—maybe in spite of its cold and dangers and presumed poverty—Cralstag’s people prosper.
Population: 60,000
Demi-humans: Few
Humanoids: Likely in mountains
Resources: furs, copper, gems (I)
[WoGA – 26]

All the barbarian peoples of eastern Oerik are pure Suloise. [WGS2 – 5]

Government: Independent feudal monarchy with hereditary rulership, though with little actual control over jarls, who act independently of one another; king controls the area around the capital and farms within 30-50 miles
Capital: Glot
Major Towns: Glot (pop. 5,100), Jotsplat (pop. 3,200)
Provinces: Seventeen jarldoms (five around Jotsplat), over thirty minor noble holdings, and Glot (capital realm)
Resources: Furs, copper, gems (I), rare wood (sablewood, not exported)
Population: 158,800—Human 96% (S), Dwarf 2% (mountain 65%, hill 35%), Halfling 1% (stout), Other 1%
Languages: Cold Tongue, Common, Dwarven
Alignments: CN*, N
Religions: Kord, Llerg, Norebo, Xerbo, Vatun
[LGG – 54]

The Cruski themselves are a people of pure Suel race, speaking the Cold Tongue as their native language. Though they have always been the least numerous of the Suel barbarians, their royal lineage is the oldest. The king of Cruski holds the title "Fasstal of all the Suelii," indicating his preeminence among the nobles of the Suel race and giving him the right to pronounce judgment on any of them. Politically, this has little real importance, for he has no power to enforce his judgments. However, it is said by some that the god Vatun granted this authority to the fasstal of the Suelii; if Vatun awoke, the full authority of the office would return to the fasstal, and a new barbarian empire would emerge under his leadership. [LGG – 54]

Indeed, the stark north is sacred to Cralstag and his people.
Vatun made His home here, once. And the Cruski believe that this hostile coast is favoured by Wee Jas.
A single stark tower of volcanic stone overlooks the Solnor Ocean, 90 leagues north of the Sablewood, at the very tip of the Thillronian Peninsula. Called the Dokkhulder, or Dark Hall. Studiously avoided by the local Cruskii barbarians, this fell structure is somehow tied to the Dark-Eyed Goddess [Wee Jas], for mages in service to her are sometimes seen making their way there, usually in the company of a bardic Keeper. [OJ#7]
Might this be why the Fasstal of all the Suelii reigns over this supposed desolate coast? Was he, then, to defend these shores from any who might desecrate it?
The Ice Barbarians are unsteady allies of the other barbarians, raiding where and when they please. [WGS2 – 6]
They raid Stonehold when the opportunity presents itself. [LGG – 149]
The Ice Barbarians have supported the Fruztii to some extent by making naval raids along the northern coast of Stonefist. [WGS2 – 6]
The other joint operation of [Fruztii, Cruski, Schnai, and Ratik] has been against the Hold of Stonefist. Fruztii forces have now secured the pass south of the Hraak Forest and control the lands for 20 miles around. [WGS2 – 6]
Territorial disputes with Stonehold that predated the wars were finally brought to a head three years ago, when a combined host of Cruski and Schnai entered the eastern hold. They were unable to capture the town of Kelten, but the Cruski reinforced their control of the Taival Tundra. [LGG – 55]

They are not without allies. They’ve the Zeai.
[O]n the Icy Sea side are the Zeai, related to the Ice Barbarians. [LGG – 154]
And the Fruztii, so long as the Kelten Pass remains open to them.
The Ice Barbarians are unsteady allies of the other barbarians, raiding where and when they please. [WGS2 – 6]
The Suelii called themselves by names in the Cold Tongue, too: Cruski, the Ice Clans, who are the most noble and brave; Schnai, the Snow Clans, who are the most numerous and strong; and Fruztii, the Frost Clans, who are the bulwark and first in battle. They battled with each other over the long years since Vatun lay down in the cold, but they would always join their hosts together when an outsider threatened. The Schnai perfected the art of building longships, and the Fruztii found adversaries for the barbarian nations to fight and plunder. The Cruski joined with their cousins on many of these raids, taking special joy in fighting their particular rivals, the Sea Barons of Aerdy. [LGG – 55]

They also have villeins, vassals, and slaves.
The Coltens folk had no place in [the Stonefist] hierarchy, and many fled to the Hraak Forest, or beyond the Big Seal Bay and the northern thrust of the Corusks to dwell in the Taival Tundra, in the land of the Ice Barbarians). [LGG – 109]
Cavalry is not unknown on the western tundra, but few tundra-dwellers are Ice Barbarians, most having Flan ancestry and being related to the Coltens of Stonehold. They do not serve as warriors for the Cruski, instead paying tribute to their Suel overlords to be left alone. [LGG – 154]

Is Cralstag’s eastern and northern coasts truly bleak? Not so. Though frequently shrouded in spring, windswept in high summer, and lashed by torrents of icy rain in autumn, they are lush, should you allow your eye to see what is there, and not what you think you see.
Sable Wood
Sable Wood:
This evergreen forest is within the realm of the King of the Ice Barbarians. Its most interesting feature is the particular fir tree whose wood turns a deep lustrous black when harvested in the dead of winter and rubbed with hot oils. [WoGA – 59]
Sablewood trees (which give the forest its name) are short with thick trunks. Their branches make excellent arrowshafts. wood cur in the dead of winter has the finest grain, and turns a deep, lustrous black when rubbed with hot oils. [WGG 3e – 23]
The barbarians prize this material greatly, and they will not export it. [WoGA – 59]
Winter wolves prowl its western half. [WGG 3e – 23]
Halsjaken: This river drops swiftly from the western Corusks, bending north past Glot to flow into the Spitzfjord. [LGG – 152]

Seas of flowers bloom in summer. Tall grasses roil and flow, resplendent in their colour, as varied as a rainbow. His lands are indeed beautiful. But unforgiving. Despite the bounty of the sea, despite its vast herds of caribou and reindeer, its summer season is short, and much effort is expended in its peoples’ thriving. Cralstag knew this, as did his father before him, and his father before him. Little time is left for industry. Just so: Vatun had imbued them with the pride befitting their station, decreeing that their lot was not to scratch dirt from the oerth, nor to toil as the lesser folks were destined to; Vatun decreed that they should be as the kings they were and task lesser folks to serve them, and to take from the weak. And they did; and do to this very day, even so far as to test their worthiness against the high standard of the other Suelii.
The Ice Barbarians inhabit the bleak shores of the Thillonrian Peninsula's north and east coasts. They will raid their cousins to the south, the Snow and Frost barbarians, or raid with them into Ratik or the more tempting Great Kingdom. In high summer they often find fighting by rounding the coasts of the Hold of Stonefist, and the Cruskii have both hatred and respect for the dour inhabitants of that land. Their most despised enemy, however, is the Sea Barons, whose ships they attack on sight, and whose isles they often attack and plunder – usually at a price. Of late these raiders have joined with Frost and Snow barbarians in order to counter the growing strength of the coastal defenders of the Great Kingdom and the Sea Barons. [WoGA – 26]

To understand Cralstag, we must understand the world he was born into.
Long before he first looked upon his mother’s love, strangers calling themselves kin came to call.
316 CY
By 5831 CY SD, relations were established with the Suel tribes of Schnai, Fruztii and Cruskii in the northern lands. [SB – 4]
Travelers from the south came to call at the courts of the barbarian Suel. Calling themselves the Brothers of the Scarlet Sign, they claimed to be kin of the Fruztii, Schnai, and Cruski. By blood, perhaps they were kin, though distantly—but, in spirit, they were the same devious manipulators who claimed to rule the ancestors of the northern Suel. They came with tales of the lost glory of the Suel race and its ruined empire. They told how the Cruski were descended from an Imperial House, the noble and loyal servant of the last Suel emperor. [LGG – 55]

The people of the Thillonrian peninsula had adapted their original culture for their cold new homes, and the representatives of the Kingdom of Shar (actually Brotherhood members) took some getting used to.  [SB – 4]

320 CY – 570’s CY
But the Kingdom of Shar brought gifts that were seductive. Such gifts were seen with suspicion, at first. But time, need, and greed eroded their suspicion. What’s more, there appeared no end to these gifts.
The southerners’ gifts of exotic woods and fine weapons eventually won over the barbarian kings. [SB – 4]
The gifts, though freely given, came at a cost, it would seem.
Culturally primitive by Brotherhood standards, the northern barbarians were beautiful examples of unpolluted Suel bloodlines, and many specimens were lured to Shar as “emissaries,” with the intent of improving the southern Suel stock. [SB – 4]

500 CY
Old King Cralstag Gunnarsenn is born. [Conjecture: Cralstag must have lived long enough to gain such a distinction as the “Old King.”]

530 CY
Cralstag Whitefang
Cralstag Gunnarsenn ascends the throne in Glot. [Conjecture.]
He takes the name Cralstag Whitefang.
Weaned on tales of the Cruski’s legacy and its destiny, Cralstag thought little on what schemes his Suelii brethren might devise. Vatun smiled upon his chosen people. Surely whatever their rivals and enemies might hurl upon them would come to naught, wherever he might be.
Vatun was imprisoned by clerics of Telchur about the time of the Battle of a Fortnight's Length. [LGG – 185]
If only Cralstag had pondered that Vatun had been tricked. Imprisoned! That Vatun might be a victim of his own hubris….

540 CY
Cralstag should never have believed in the myth of the Cruski’s innate sovereignty over the Suelii. There has never been a Suelii. There were Rhizians, and the Rhizians were and are independent peoples. They trust in kin, their jarls, and their thanes; but not distant kin. They raid one another; and sometimes, when their longships are asea, those distant kin show how perfidious they can be. And opportunistic. If only Cralstag had understood that. But alas, he believed in Cruski strength. And Cruski destiny. And in Vatun’s benediction. Mostly, he believed in the riches his people seized while raiding south, coveting ever more of the silver and gold they liberated from the weaklings of the Great Kingdom. His greed urged him to send too many longships south season after season.
The Schnai took note of this and invaded the Ursula Highlands, taking them for their own. Cralstag could only look on in disbelief. How was this possible, he wailed, crying out to a deaf and silent deity who cared little for weaklings or the subjugated. His warriors far asea, he could do nothing to stop the Schnai; nor could he dislodge them, either, once they returned, no matter how he might try.
The Schnai also made war on the Ice Barbarians, wresting the Ustula region from them and holding it for several decades. They never conquered the Ice Barbarians as they did the Frost Barbarians, however, for the Cruski are nearly as able seafarers as the Schnai. [LGG – 105]
It was from this vantage that the Schnai demanded tribute from their Suelii kin, the Cruski, tribute that could not be denied lest they lose Glot.

Old King Cralstag’s nephew Lolgoff Olafsenn is born. [Conjecture.]
Old King Cralstag is without an heir. [Conjecture. If he did, his nephew would not have been crowned, assuming the throne is hereditary. Norse cultures were, so I assume the Rhizians were.]

540 – 560 CY
Lolgoff was an observant child, if easily dismissed as such, due to his great height. As a child he was larger than his kith and kin, twice the height of any his age. He will be a mighty warrior, all who laid eyes on him said, nodding sagely. And surely he would be: He could tip a cow with ease, they jested. It comes to no surprise that they pressed an axe and a hammer in his hand, long before any of his peers.
He took to the axe and hammer with ease, all noted. As expected. But so too tactics, and an understanding of how words were weapons in Cralstag’s hall.
He watched. He listened. Olaf, his father, was pleased. His jarldom would wax while others’ waned under Lolgoff’s sway, he believed. He said as much to his brother, his liege, Cralstag. And Cralstag considered the boy closely, as he had no heir.
Lolgoff would not prove his father wrong. Cralstag took note of that, as well.

c. 570s CY
Distrust of their kin did not preclude their sailing and raiding with them. After all, the Cruski could trust that Schnai ships would not raid Cruski jarls should they be south, raiding rich shores, and waging war upon a common enemy.
Cralstag bid Lolgoff lead the ships of his jarldom south. Bring me back riches, Cralstag commanded. And keep your eye on our benevolent liege-lords, Cralstag said in confidence. Trust in their swords, he said, but not their words. Lolgoff did as he was told. He learned much from what he saw of the Schnai, and even more from what they said.
The Cruski joined with their cousins on many of these raids, taking special joy in fighting their particular rivals, the Sea Barons of Aerdy.
This was the life of the barbarian Suel for hundreds of years, through victories and losses. Their freedom was undiminished, but it was subtly threatened several decades ago. [LGG – 55]
The emissaries of the Kingdom of Shar had returned. They called themselves the Order of the Scarlet Sign.
Old King Cralstag admitted his suspicions of these southern kin to Lolgoff. I don’t trust them, he said. Their words are as silk, he said. His father, Gunnar, did not trust them, Cralstag said, nor his father before him.

573 CY
The emissaries of the Scarlet Brotherhood, as always, offered many gifts and whispered many promises. They offered passage to any of their brethren who wished to accompany them south. They bowed. They pledged promises that never seemed to resolve. And they feigned servility. Yet, all their whispers sounded like orders to Cralstag’s ears.
Old King Cralstag knew well that his ancestors, be they slaves or scoundrels, were never the lapdogs of an emperor who stank of magic. So he told the Scarlet Brothers, and before all in his court, as his judgment on their words. For this, the Brothers murdered him soon thereafter—not with clean blade or strength of arms, but with hidden venom in his cup. [LGG – 55]
“Murder most foul, as in the best it is. But this most foul, strange and unnatural.”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Old King Cralstag was 73.

Lolgoff Bearhear
The Brotherhood were cunning and stealthy. But Lolgoff had taken heed of his uncle’s suspicions. And though he was not able to prevent Cralstag’s death, he was quick to take those responsible to task.
The king's nephew, Lolgoff, knew the old king's judgment and the manner of his death. When the Brothers were brought before him, they spoke words of praise and honor for the dead king, and they smiled. Lolgoff smiled too, as he cut them apart with the old king's sword, for he honored Cralstag in deeds, not words. As king and fasstal, Lolgoff pronounced his judgment: The Brothers of the Scarlet Sign should receive only death in the kingdom of Cruski. [LGG – 55]

Thus, Lolgoff Bearhear came to his uncle’s throne.
His Most Ferocious Majesty, Lolgoff Bearhear, the King of Cruski; Fasstal of all the Suelii [WoGA – 26]
Cruski, Kingdom of (Ice Barbarians): Lolgoff Bearhair, F 14 [WoGG – 17]
(CN male human Bbn15) [LGG – 54]
Lolgoff was 33.
He had been weaned on the false premise of Schnai supremacy, of their supposed suzerainty and their demand for tribute. On their deceit, and their perfidious promises of Cruski self-determination under the threat of reprisals should they not do as they were told. Lolgoff desired that his people be free of them.
More importantly, Lolgoff had seen the duplicity and treachery of those distant kin of Shar, firsthand.
He has rid his kingdom of the latter. He vowed that he would be rid of the former.

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

The Art:
Nauskiree, by Sam Wood, from Living Greyhawk Journal #1, 2000

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9317 WGS1 Five Shall Be One, 1991
9337 WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
11374 The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999
11742 Gazetteer, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Living Greyhawk Journal #1
Oerth Journal #7
Dragon Magazine 55,56,57,63
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer


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