Friday, 30 December 2022

On Purmill

“The Lord had given them the day and the Lord had given them the strength. And the day and the strength had been dedicated to labor, and the labor was its reward. Who was the labor for? What would be its fruits? These were irrelevant and idle questions.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

An incessant wind rips across the far north. It matters not from whence it blows, for indeed, there can be but only two sources: from the Icy Sea to the north or the snow-packed peaks of the Griff mountains. In either event, it blows and strips the lifeblood from the bone. It is no wonder, then, that those who dwell under their confluence are a dour folk, pragmatic, as pitiless as the perpetual rustle of its gusting.
A frigid climate and brutal regime combine to make Stonehold one of the harshest lands in all the Flanaess. […] The majority of Stoneholders live a seminomadic existence, moving to the northern tundra in summer and migrating south in the autumn. The remaining third or so of the population dwell in permanent settlements, mostly west of the Frozen River. [LGG – 108, 109]
Frozen River: A swift flow running mainly north from the Griff Mountains through the lands of Stonefist to empty into White Fanged Bay. [WoGA – 54]
This river flows from headwaters in the Griffs to White Fanged Bay and freezes over during the winter months along much of its length. It is rich in fish and krill. [FtAA – 64]

One would think little of Purmill and its low profile of rock walls and mossy thatch astride the Frozen River upon first sight. Little distinguishes it from its environs, the heath and heather, the bare outcrops camouflaged with lichen. It’s a grey and gloomy place, shrouded by long shadows stretching out from the lofty Griffs. But it is more than the sum of its thatch. It was once a seat of power, lording over the windswept northeast, guarding against Tenh and what might flow out of the mountains.
The Griff Mountains
As the name implies, the peaks of these mountains are the habitat of many monstrous creatures. The Griff range extends from the western terminus of the Corusks at Hraak Pass, southwest and west for over 100 leagues. These mountains divide the Hold of Stonefist from the Duchy of Tenh and the Theocracy of the Pale below. Being only a trifle lower than the Corusks, the Griff Mountains are similarly uninviting to human settlement, although there are some sprinkled here and there, for these mountains do contain valuable mineral deposits. There is supposedly a small and beautiful land in the heart of this range. Ruled by a powerful prince, and protected from all invasions by magic and might, this tiny realm is said to have buildings roofed in copper and silver, gold used as lead is elsewhere, and jewels lying about on the ground.
[WoGA – 52]
Few southerners believe the tales of the prince of the Griff Mountains. How could such a kingdom exist when the Griffs are teeming with horrors?
The Griffs contain more monsters, with ogres, various types of troll, and ever-hungry griffons especially noteworthy. White puddings are also a feature of the Griffs. There is reputed to be a great subterranean orcish city, Garel Enkdal, within the Griffs [….] [FtAA – 58]
The rumours persisted, though, about that fabled kingdom in the Griff mountains.
It is commonly held that the Flan peoples of eastern Oerik were simple tribesmen before the events that led to the Suel and Oeridian migrations. There remain to be explained certain ruins found in the Griff and Corusk Mountains. The massive stone foundations, straight level roads, and flattened or terraced areas of mountainside seem from the proportions of the rarely preserved doorways to be intended for creatures of human size, and it seems unlikely that elves or humanoids would have had the inclination to produce such works. What is more, the occasional jade carvings and green ceramic figurines found both at these sites and occasionally in rivers flowing out of the mountains show a people of Flannish features and dress, and there remain in the Duchy of Tenh and among the Coltens stories of a powerful mountain state of Flannish race. Perhaps the dwarves of the region know more, but if so they show the typical reticence of demi-human races concerning prehistoric events. [GA – 97]
What might those kingdoms be? Sagas and legends refer to them as Tostencha and Skrellingshald. Legends they remain, for few who’ve ventured into the Corusks and Griffs have ever returned. What is true is that they have never spoken of such kingdoms. Nor do the dour northerners speak of them, either; but in the long winters, they tell their own tales of those dark days of yore in halting whispers. Of Tostencha and Keraptis.

Some two thousand years ago, the wizard Keraptis established himself as "protector" of Tostenhca—a grand mountainside city of wide streets and towering ziggurats. But the wizard, who had extended his lifespan far beyond that of most mortals in his search for immortality, became more and more corrupt with increasing age. Over four centuries, the cost of his protection grew ever more burdensome, until eventually Keraptis was taking a piece of everything that the people of Tostenhca grew, made, or sold.
[Return to White Plume Mountain – 9]

Nearly 1300 years ago, in a time when the Flan tribes still dominated eastern Oerik, the archwizard Keraptis rose to power in the lands abutting the southern Rakers, and while most historians agree that the mage’s kingdom encompassed what is now known as the Bone March, a few scholars believe the territories that later became Ratik and the Pale were part of this empire as well.
Yet, as is well documented in the little known Legend of Keraptis, the archwizard was a cruel man, so brutal in fact that, near the end of his reign, he demanded his tormented subjects turn over to him one-third of their newborn children as part of their taxes. [Dragon #241 – 77]
With the announcement of yet another levy—one-third of all newborn children—the people rose as one, ousting Keraptis and his personal bodyguard of deranged gnomes. [RtWPM– 9]
Had the Coltens been a meek and craven people they might never have risen up from Keraptis’ yoke. But they did. It is unlikely that sedition began within cowed Tostencha. From where then? The foothills, likely, where Keraptis’ grip was less firm. From Tenh. From the Colten hills.
The peasants did not take this atrocity lightly, and under the leadership of the high priest Gethrun Shoiraine and his ranger followers, the kingdom of the tyrant-mage was sundered. [Dragon #241 – 77]
[The] people rose as one, ousting Keraptis and his personal bodyguard of deranged gnomes. [RtWPM – 3]
Why do they still only whisper the name Keraptis? Because Keraptis had ruled over all he saw with unparalleled cruelty, cruelty they themselves learned well, by necessity; but despite their fierce nature, they were ever wary, fearing his return.
White Plume Mountain
Three hundred years after leaving Tostenhca, Keraptis learned of a great volcano called White Plume Mountain, in which still-living druids of the Elder Age guarded the secrets of immortality. Within the volcano, the wizard found a tangled maze of lava tunnels and an ancient druid serving as the sole protector of Elder secrets. The two fought a titanic battle for ownership of White Plume Mountain and its ancient mysteries, but in the end the wizard prevailed. After casting the druid's remains into a sea of magma, the triumphant Keraptis penetrated to the Druid's Fane, a secret chamber protected by molten rock.
There, among other treasures of ancient sorcery, he found the archetypal iceblade Frostrazor and an enigmatic statuette. Keraptis used the figurine’s power to pronounce a heinous curse that laid waste to distant Tostenhca, thus exacting his revenge at last. [RtWPM – 3,4]

Their fierceness was tempered, though. The Old Faith was strong here, as were the Druids who guided the people through the harsh winters, protecting the firs and the heath from without, and from the seasonal incursions and feints that inevitably flowed down from the heights that loomed over them.
WORLD OF GREYHAWK® campaign (Flanaess only): Beory and Obad-Hai, the latter also known as “The Shalm,” are the major gods of the druids here. [Dragon #209 – 11]
Arctic druid: WG: Thillonrian Peninsula (on which lies the Griff, and Corusk Mountains).
Forest druid (cold): WG: forests along Thillonrian Peninsula (Hraak). [Dragon #209 – 13]
Mountain druid: WG: Corusk-Griff-Rakers chain [Dragon #209 – 14]

c. 430 CY
So it remained for millennia. The Coltens were an isolated nation, a forgotten people. And they might have remained as much if not for one man: Vlek Col Vlekzed.
Vlek Col Vlekzed
Vlek Col Vlekzed, called Stonefist, was a ruthless bandit who had been cast out from the Rovers of the Barrens for his vice and cruelty, and left to wander the fringes of his homeland for several years. Over that time, he gathered a large following of evil men, even sacking one of the old Bandit Kingdoms and carrying away most of its population. Vlek moved them beyond White Fanged Bay, where he established the fortified town of Vlekstaad.
[LGG – 109]
Was Vlekzed a Rover? Of course not. What sane man would look to conquer the frozen north when the opulence of Tenh lay within his grasp?
The forces of Tenh, which had never been strong in the region, were unable to dislodge him. [LGG – 113]
Vlek returned home to the land of his weening when he was cast out by the Rovers. For it was there, he knew, that he could forge a weapon for revenge.
Stonefist, then Vlek Col Vlekzed, founded his chiefdom in approximately 430 CY. […] [Folio – 16]
The banished son had returned.
This infamous warrior was a menace throughout the region for several years, finally choosing to build a settlement on the border of the Coltens Feodality. The Cohens were still vassals of the duke of Tenh, though their atamans had great latitude in determining their own affairs. [LGG – 113]
And he meant to have his revenge on them for having banished him.
The Coltens were very uneasy with his presence in their land, but Vlek promised a truce and offered to negotiate with their leaders.  [LGG – 109]
Vlek also knew that he might not live long if he did not cut off the Coltens’ head before it had time to plan, and to act.
The Coltens
The inhabitants of the area, the Coltens Feodality, were tricked into negotiation with Vlek. These negotiators and their escorting force were slaughtered, the remainder of the Coltens host routed by surprise and ferocity, and Vlek settled down to rule over the whole territory. As Vlek's infamy spread, malcontents from many nations came to his standard, despite his new name of Stonefist (implying both a terrible foeman and an inflexible ruler).
[Folio – 16]
These negotiators and their escorting force were slaughtered, the remainder of the Cohens host routed by surprise and ferocity, and Vlek settled down to rule over the whole territory. As Vlek's infamy spread, malcontents from many nations came to his standard, despite his new name of Stonefist (implying both a terrible foeman and an inflexible ruler). [WoGG – 36]
It was from here that Vlek forged his weapon.
Not all shared his vision, though.
The Coltens folk had no place in this 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]

Thus it was that the Hold of Stonefist was born, and the seat of power shifted from Purmill to Vlekstaad.
"Rite of Battle Fitness." 
The descendants of Vlek (he had 219 wives and 351 male children who survived to maturity) compete in a bi-annual "Rite of Battle Fitness." The winner may challenge the Master, one of the Atamen of the three towns, or lead a warband and become a chief. The surviving losers join the standing warbands (the "Fists"), those who did best becoming chieftains, sub-chiefs, and leaders of raiding bands. These savage war and raiding bands commonly raid Fruztii, Tenh, and even the Rovers of the Barrens. About 30% or so of the population of the Hold dwell in permanent settlements, and from these people are drawn the bulk of the footmen. Most of the balance of the population are semi-nomadic, moving into the northern tundra in the summer, and migrating south in the fall. From these people come the horsemen and light infantry of the "Fists."
[Folio – 16]

The harshness of the rule and the severe tests placed upon those desiring to do so have combined with the unfavorable climate of the Hold of Stonefist to keep it from becoming a serious threat to its neighbors. [Dragon #57 – 13]

500s – 570s CY
The Hold might never have been a serious threat, but they harried the Rovers and Tenh, the Bandits and the Rhizians; indeed, they ventured as far as the fleetness of their fleet and the Icy Sea allowed, unto the shores of Blackmoor and those of the Nomads.
The armies of Stonehold are comprised of "Fists", war bands of about 250 fighters, of either infantry or cavalry. The bulk of heavy infantry is drawn from the settlements, while the tundra and forest dwellers provide most of the light infantry and cavalry. [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. [LGG – 54]
Let it be understood that the Fists and the Coltens were not the same.
The Coltens, despite generations of servitude to the invaders, have slowly emerged as a competing form of leadership, offering their method of election of the most popular warrior as an alternative to the Rite of Battle Fitness. So many aspiring leaders were slain in the often-useless raids of the latter method that its proponents have grown scarce. [Dragon #57 – 14]
The Coltens saw that just as the Rite of Battle Fitness was meant to hone the blade of Stonehold it also weakened it. And as it weakened, the Coltens began to rise up.
The Hold was then divided between those who followed the laws laid down by Vlek Col Vlekzed, and those who claimed that Stonefist’s methods are no longer appropriate and the Coltens Feodality should be restored. The nomads and settlers west and around the Frozen River championed the ways of Stonefist. The population around Kelten and the Hraak Forest wished to establish new forms of leadership. [Dragon #57 – 13]

577 CY
Sevvord Redbeard’s defence against the barbarians was hampered by this sedition, which led to the Barbarians making greater gains than anticipated. Left alone the Barbarians would surely sack Purmill and then Bastra and Vlekstaad, each in turn.
When Ratik and the Fruztii made peace, the subsequent battles for the Kelten Pass brought several telling defeats to “fists” led by the descendant warband leaders. [Dragon #57 – 13,14]
And with his attention turned to the east, Purmill lay vulnerable to Tenh.
[B]oth southern passes to the rich state of Tenh and the lands of the Fruztii were closed to all but a major effort. A major effort was impossible because of the near-revolt of the eastern (mainly Coltens-descendant) bands under Ataman Dyerg Keda […] and supported by over a dozen chieftains and subchiefs. [Dragon #57 – 13]
Seuvord Redbeard, being both tough and intelligent, refused to be drawn into a civil war, for then the surrounding enemies of the Hold would surely take the opportunity offered and destroy the remnants of the state. [Dragon #57 – 13]
Though Sevvord might not be engaged in a civil war, he had need that the strength of Purmill be applied to keep this Dyerg Keda in check while he regained Kelten from the Rhizians. With his Fists so far east, the Hold was open to the razing of the Rovers.
The Rovers of the Barrens were undoubtedly gaining in numbers once again, so no easy raiding prospects existed to the west. [Dragon #57 – 13]
Stretched as thinly as he was, it was only a matter of time until Tenh came to call.
Duke Ehyeh II of Tenh
In 577, the Duke began early actions to the north, working into the mountains and fortifying the southern end of Rockegg Pass, some 20 leagues above Catbut.
[Dragon # 56 – 21]
Strong action by the Duchy of Tenh in the Rockegg Pass was successful due to the division amongst the peoples of the Hold. “Fist” units — warbands consisting of five “fingers” of some 25 fighters each, plus a “palm” of about 75 to 150 —counter-attacking the Tennese fought without quarter and did considerable harm. But their attacks were too disorganized and their numbers too few to cause the Ducal army real concern. Of the two dozen warbands which responded to the Tennese action, over half were killed to a man. Only the arrival of over 2,000 light cavalry and about half that number of light infantry from northern tundra of the Hold prevented the Tennese from moving into the interior and taking Purmill. The Ducal troops under Marshal laba numbered 500 cavalry and 5,000 foot. [Dragon #57 – 13]
The Duke was himself killed in fighting against the Holders, whose units of “fists” resisted with great ferocity the closing of the pass. Despite the death of their leader, the Tennese (now under Marshal laba) finished what their liege had willed, thus effectively securing the Duchy on two sides. [Dragon # 56 – 21]

What kept his Ataman’s loyal, Sevvord wondered? Fear? Certainly. That was well and good; but Sevvord knew that if he and his were to keep hold of the Hold he would require more than mere fear. He required legacy. And sovereignty.
As Seuvord also wished his own line to retain the Mastership of the Hold as a hereditary right, he called a great council at Purmill, with safe conduct for all who attended.
Many observers were surprised that all of the principal leaders of the Hold took part in the convocation, but those aware of the cleverness of Seuvord knew that he was certainly responsible for the showing. What was put forth at the council by Seuvord Redbeard was that the Hold must adapt to the changes taking place and the new alliances against its people. He asked the assembled leaders to grant him the hereditary title of Rhelt; he asked that Atamen also be made hereditary leaders, and also that the chief men of each area be given the right to elect the warband leaders. The Rite of Battle Fitness was not to be done away with, however. Instead, it would qualify warriors for service in the standing army to be formed immediately, with those of exceptional capabilities to be made leaders, companions of the Rhelt, or even war chiefs whose right it would be to expand the realm through conquest and occupation.
There was considerable dissension, particularly from the direct descendants of Stonefist, but enough of them, as well as of the nomadic chieftains, agreed to Seuvord’s proposal to sway the entire assembly. [Dragon #57 – 13,14]

578 CY
The old Duke of Tenh dead, the new duke desired security from his most hated enemy, the Hold of Stonefist.
At a convocation in Nevond Nevend during Neefest, 578, Ehyeh III was crowned Duke, and the Tennese celebrated greatly. The old Duke’s son was more warlike than his doughty father, and his early training as a fighter on the frontiers made Ehyeh III particularly anxious to secure all avenues against invasion. [Dragon # 56 – 21]

Rhelt Seuvord I of Stonehold / Sevvord
He need not have worried. Not yet, anyway, because Sevvord was busy securing his own domain, just then.
In CY 578, shortly after Tenh had coronated its new Duke, the Master of the Hold became Rhelt Seuvord I of Stonehold. [Dragon #57 – 14]
The Hold of Stonefist was also renamed. Now openly calling itself Stonehold, this quasi-kingdom is composed of four Atamanships: Vlekstaad (west), Pumull (south), Kelten (east), and Bastro (north). Four Great Chieftains were named, each equal to an Ataman (Reindeer, White Bear, Walrus, and Forest [Hraak] People). Stonehold has become a force that is greatly feared by all in this region. [TAB – 23]
Several of his cousins took ill from a mysterious flux shortly after the coronation, and about a dozen others were reported fleeing into the Griff Mountains with a small band of loyal followers. [Dragon #57 – 14]

582 CY
He had need to. His spies informed him that Tenh was treating with his other enemies, the Rhyzians and Ratik. What he did not know was that they were trespassing upon his sparsely populated realm.
Duke Ehyeh has become noticeably more friendly to the Frost Barbarians of late. As the actions of Ratik and the Frost Barbarians stir up the Bone March, this causes trouble for the Great Kingdom and for the Theocracy of the Pale. Both states have hostile attitudes toward the Duchy. In view of this, Ehyeh discreetly allows Frost Barbarian emissaries across his lands to organize shipments of weapons from the Bandit Kingdoms.
From here, weapons make their way up the Zumker River to Calbut and then through dangerous foothill territory at the very edge of the Griff Mountains to the pass at Kelten. The trade is discreet, but everyone knows about it. [WGS1 – 6]
It was a dangerous trek, transporting weapons to Kelten, so close to Purmill, still a Fist stronghold. Those that did were jumpy, sure every rustle of branch and snap of a twig was the harbinger of death. But the way must be kept open, and “safe.” Or as safe as it could be….
[A] man dressed in green, loose-fitting clothing jumps up from the bushes. He screams meaningless words of caution and death at them, and then he runs away to the south, in the general direction of the Griff Mountains. [WGS2 – 15]
He is a forward scout for Ratik [….] He was sent to scout out the best possible paths to attack the Hold of Stonefist and the Frost Barbarians. After Ratik conquers the North Province, they plan to lay claim to the whole eastern section of the continent. [WGS2 – 15]

584 CY
The War passed by Purmill and the Tundra after Vatun’s “return.” With most of the Fists away, the Barbarians held Kelten with ease. But try as they might Purmill eluded them. Indeed, the remainder of the Hold held them at bay.
And so it remained. Peace had come to the furthest north. If raiding and assassinations and sedition can be called Peace.
Until Iuz, distracted, delirious with the Death he had unleashed, lost hold of the Stonefist.
The Fists Return
[D]uring a period of Suel raids into Stonehold, the magical affliction of Reword Redbeard was ended. Without knowing why, he exploded in a rage that would have killed a lesser man. He gathered the Fists from across Tenh, having them first kill all the clerics of Iuz within their reach, and any locals they could quickly find; then, leaving only a rearguard to occupy Calbut, Nevond Nevnend, and the territory north of the Zumkend River, he returned in force to Stonehold. His army drove the barbarians back from Kelten and secured the pass, while he returned to Vlekstaad with his personal guard.
[LGG – 109]
War had returned to the Hold.
And held dominion as it had not for years.
Kelten and Purmill are more important in the affairs of Stonehold, especially in light of the ongoing warfare with the Suel barbarians. [LGG – 110]
Revenge is widely sought against the northern barbarians for the burning of Vlekstaad, but Iuz's forces are hated even more. Conspiracies are suspected between Iuz and several war band leaders to gain control of Stonehold. Murders of war band leaders (by their fellows) are on the rise. [LGG – 110]

589 CY
Purmill (Pop 1,900)
Resources: […] silver, gems (I)
Population: 55,000 [Stonehold]—Human 96% (FS), Orc 2%, Dwarf 1%, Other 1%
Languages: Flan dialects, Common, Cold Tongue Alignments: CE*, CN, N
Religions: Erythnul*, Syrul, Beltar, Beory, Obad-Hai [LGG – 108]

It appears that Sevvord’s war will rage so long as there are Barbarians within striking distance.
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]
That will be for some time to come….
[The Schnai’s] alliance with Ratik is less cemented than that of the Cruskii, but Ingemar seems amenable to continued cooperation after the events of the Wars. He also has great hatred for the Stonefisters, and wishes to mount a joint expedition with the other barbarian races through the Griff Mountains to lay waste to Kelten. Time will tell if this comes to fruition. [FtAA – 37]

Calbut is busy, with weapons and equipment brought in from the Bandit Lands passing north. In return, the Fists trade platinum and food for it. The priests and mages of Iuz also keep a careful watch on their allies. Sevvord Redbeard himself sometimes visits from Vlekstaad or Purmill, and occasionally the city walls ring with cheers as captured Frost barbarians are dragged in chains into Calbut. However, there are often more dangerous visitations. Hill giants and ogres still storm Calbut's walls with rocks from time to time and flights of griffons attack men and riders outside the city, but Iuz's mages are usually equal to such threats. [WGR5 – 69]

Two former allies, Iuz and the Fists of Stonehold, are now at each other's throat. The Fists occupy a strong defensive position in the cities of Nevond Nevnend and Calbut across the Zumkend River, guarding Rockegg Pass through the Griffs against all other groups in Tenh. [LGG – 112]

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:
The Hold of Stonefist, by Ken Frank, from WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1068 Greyhawk Wars Boxed Set, 1991
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
2023 Greyhawk Adventures Hardback, 1988
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9317 WGS1, The Five Shall be One, 1991
9337 WGS2, Howl from the North, 1991
11434 Return to White Plume Mountain, 1999
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Living Greyhawk Journal, #3
Dragon Magazine 55,56,57,209 241
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

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