Three Hands carefully checked the last of his traps, but it was empty much like the others. Ever since the humans had come here, food was hard to come by. They were like a plague of insects, scouring the land, consuming everything they could find.

Some people had done well from it. The Imperials paid well for any food brought to their quartermasters, they didn't just take it like the Druj. They paid with their coins - not silver or gold like the Druj ones but iron. They wouldn't give enough to make anything of any use out of but apparently the best thing to do was sell them back to the humans for other things. Red Eyes had acquired a spear point made of steel and a straight oak stave to mount it on. His daughter had two new hemp fishing nets. All from the humans in exchange for supplies, which the humans could have just taken off them anyway.

It didn't make any sense at all to Three Hands - it certainly wasn't the Druj way. Nothing the humans did made any sense. They were apparently going to decide which human tribe was going to own the Sand Fishers and the lands which was just another thing that made no sense. It was the sun worshipers who had conquered the place - with their Ushkan allies. Why wouldn't they claim it for their own?

And then they had conquered Lomaa and released all the slaves. Which made no sense. Why would you risk your life trying to steal the Druj slaves and then let them all go? Apparently they weren't allowed to keep slaves because their gods forbade it. That was what Red Eyes said, but Red Eyes talked like a Druj when he thought he could get away with it.

His traps were all reset, but he had nowhere near enough food for the day, so he set off further down the coast, to see if he could find any wading birds or their nests. If he got luck and managed to catch two or three birds... he might have enough to exchange with the humans for some of those iron points they had for their arrows. They would be so much better than the flint heads the other Sand Fishers used...

Overview

The Empire has successful completed the conquest of Ossium, the first successful conquest of a new territory in decades. Now that the Druj have defeated, the Senate is faced with the vital decision of which Imperial nation to assign the territory to. Assignment requires only a majority vote of members of the Senate. In the past the results have often been predictable, the Senate choosing to assign a territory to whatever Imperial people predominantly lived there, but there have been notable conflicts, such as when Holberg was added to the Empire.

In the case of Ossium, the situation is considerably more complex, since there are virtually no Imperial citizens currently native to the territory. As such, the territory might legitimately be assigned to any of the ten Imperial nations. To help the Imperial Senate with this crucial decision, the civil service have created a short summary of the relevant considerations.

Contiguity

The first point to be made is that the territory need not be contiguous with the nation it is assigned to. Traditionally, the territories of most nations are contiguous, they all adjoin each other, but this is more an accident of history than anything fundamental. Before the Empire was created, before the egregores were created, there was no mechanism for the members of a nation to be spread easily across a disparate land. The Navarr managed it, by dint of their stridings, but other than the Navarr a group of people would all live in one geographic area.

The Empire, and specifically the egregores, changed that. The magic of the egregore bond allows a nation to maintain a cultural cohesion that enables them to easily see each other as members of the same nation, even when they live vast distances apart. The League have been the clear beneficiaries of this magic, the cities lie hundreds of miles apart in some cases, yet every League citizen is in no doubt about where their loyalties lie.

As a result, it is perfectly possible to assign Ossium to any of the ten nations of the Empire. The geographic location of the territory is arguably one of the least important considerations that must be weighed by the Senate, if it really matters at all.

Known Inhabitants

The know population of Ossium includes a large population of orcs, the Sand Fishers, as well as a smaller group of humans who appear to have Varushkan ancestry called the The Ketsov. There is also a significant Druj presence here, members of the Bone Serpent Clan.

Unfortunately the Empire does not have a map of the territory, which puts significant limits on what is known about it and about the people who live here. There are likely to other groups of people living here - who may be large or small in nature and whose culture or politics may be significant or notable in some way. Sadly the Empire has no way to know the first thing about these people unless the Imperial Senate commission a spy network here or the Military Council ask a general to move a scouting army to gather intelligence in the territory.

In some ways you could argue that this makes the decision of who to assign Ossium to easier. While it is possible to point to the Ketsov and point out their apparent links to Varushka, it is possible to argue that anyone could be living here and right now the Empire just doesn't know who they are.

Consequences

After the Imperial Senate have assigned the territory to a nation, the egregores of that nation will devote the months ahead to travelling across the land looking to identify individuals, families, and groups who have the potential to join their nation and who want to do so. The egregore will work with these people and when they are ready they will bond to the egregore. At that point they become legal citizens of the Empire and inhabitants of that nation with the rights and privileges that follow.

In addition to that, it can be expected that existing ambitious, prosperous individuals of the nation will want to move to a new territory. Ossium appears to only sparsely inhabited and there are likely to be a great many opportunities for such people to prosper and do well here. People will be attracted by those prospects, and the potential for political and economic advancement.

People that cannot join the nation the territory is assigned to will face a difficult choice. Some will chose to emigrate - leaving for other lands. The Druj may well flee East - taking sanctuary with their kin. Of course they may not - as the experience with the Jotun thralls in the Mournwold shows. In theory they might emigrate elsewhere in the Empire. If Ossium is assigned to another nation, the Varushkan Assembly might pass a statement of principle inviting the Ketsov to move to a named territory in Varushka where they might feel more welcome.

Some groups may choose to remain in the territory. They could become foreigners, like the Jotun Thralls. There is no intrinsic reason why foreigners cannot prosper in the Empire, just like the Thule have done in the Silver Peaks. Historically small groups of foreigners have not prospered in the Empire, they have tended to dwindle and either been assimilated or eventually moved elsewhere, a consequence of the power of the egregore magic perhaps. But with the Ossium that could take years and would be a slow process unless the Imperial Synod took the lead to change sentiments on the ground.

The final options is that they could remain a difficult and dangerous barbarian population, like the Druj and their subjects that the Dawnish have fought over the Barrens with for centuries. In that case it might be wise to try and drive them out using Imperial armies - for the safety of everyone else.

Choices

The Brass Coast

Ossium is nothing like the Brass Coast. The people are nothing like the Freeborn, the land is completely different. There is at least some coast, if you count the Semmerlak, and there is a river that runs down to the sea, albeit the route is extraordinarily dangerous running as it does through Druj lands. It would be expensive and dangerous but not impossible to make Ossium part of the Brass Coast. Parts of the marsh could be drained, great jettys and docks could be built over the Semmerlak. If the territory were made Freeborn it might even be possible to build a shipyard here - once enough land was recovered from the marshes.

The presence of the Sand Fishers might present the best reason to assign Ossium to the Brass Coast. The Freeborn have recent experience of reaching out to an orc nation with a view to bringing them to the way. That approach was technically successful if not exactly triumphant, but some Freeborn citizens claim they have learned from those mistakes. Crucially what the Sand Fishers lack more than anything else is a joie de vivre, they are an utterly morose people who seemed to have simply given in to despair. Proximity to the wild spirits and passions of the Brass Coast might just be the best way to help restore their spirit.

Dawn

Ossium is joined to Dawn by a Magical Golden Bridge that links the marshland to the town of Lacre. That would make it easy for Dawnish citizens to travel to Ossium with a view to settle the territory. Some of those displaced from the Barrens in particular, would jump at the opportunity to make a new home here. Ossium also has an important coastline on the Semmerlak, an ancient lake often linked to the Summer realm that plays an important role in Dawnish life. In addition it is clear that the forests to the north are infested with creatures from the realms - Dawn might be one of the nations best able to face that problem either with its enchanters... or with its knights errant and questing.

Ossium is not a rich land, the marshes yield little food, the forests are inhospitable, and the plans are sparse and not that fertile. Dawn is the only nation whose population are so martial in temperament that adding Ossium by itself would be sufficient to eventually raise the number of armies the nation could support.

Highguard

The Ketsov have little in common with the Highborn, and they do not follow the virtues, but neither did any human citizen before Highguard brought the Way to humanity. The fact that they don't possess the virtues, might be one of the strongest arguments to make Ossium Highborn. Doing so would, without doubt, be the fastest and most effective way to bring any people living here to the Imperial faith. It might not be trouble free, but the conversions would be quicker and more profound. Some of the land here is also geographically similar to the isolated parts of Highguard - the territory might well suit those chapters that prefer a more secluded monastic life. Indeed there are more than a few similarities between Ossium and Reikos before it was fully civilised by the Highborn in the early years of the Empire.

The existence of the new Highborn pilgrimage would complicate any attempt to settle the territory. Highguard can ill afford to lose more citizens from its territory at the moment - on the other hand the presence of so many Highborn pilgrims traveling through the new territory might make it easier and quicker to bring it into the fold than some other nations.

The Imperial Orcs

It is easy for human citizens to think that the presence of the Sand Fishers and similar Druj subjects creates a compelling argument for the assignment of Ossium to the Imperial Orcs. In practice the Empire has never conquered a territory that didn't have a significant orc population at the time it was settled. The presence of the Sand Fishers does not prevent Ossium being allocated to a human nation. Moreover, a number of civil servants have noted that the Sand Fishers are about as different from the Imperial Orcs as it is possible to be. Brutalized by centuries of Druj tyranny, they are thoroughly cowed and subjugated. To be fair, there's nothing about the Sand Fishers that resonates with any Imperial nation.

One advantage might be that Ossium would provide a valuable additional territory for those Imperial Orcs who prefer not to live in the frigid north or who find the secrets in the deep forests attractive. The weather is warmer here and some Imperial Orcs would want to settle. Perhaps if they do they might discover people living here who are more like the Imperial Orcs in nature - perhaps they might find a way to restore some sense of Pride to the Sand Fishers.

The League

There is no city in Ossium, even without a map of the territory, that much is clear. However the territory is both theoretically contiguous with Holberg (on the other side of the river), and has two large towns, Ketsov and Lomaa. Lomaa is currently inhabited mostly by orcs, but the people of Ketsov are human and they have clear similarities with the people of the League. They are relatively urbane, at least for townsfolk, and they have a strong emphasis on trade and artisanry which is redolent of the biggest Imperial cities. In particular, it has been noted that the Ketsov are clearly ambitious people - once they are convinced that the Druj are not coming back, it is likely that many of them would be happy to join the League and become League citizens. Their Varushkan heritage would be no more a bar to this than it was when Temeschwar joined the League. Citizens from the more crowded parts of Holberg are also likely to react positively to such a decision. Some will travel here, settling either Lomaa or Ketsov.

It will be expensive to assimilate Ossium into the League. There will be teething troubles, as the population of either Ketsov or Lomaa begins to swell as it grows into a great city as it inevitably will if the territory joins the League. However the Senate and other branches of government could deal with these problems and once successful another League territory might provide the largest boost to the Imperial treasury.

Marches

Ossium is surprisingly similar to parts of the Marches, Bregasland specifically. A number of Bregasland citizens might well be keen to settle here as a result; some would see its distance from the nosy folk of Upwold and Mitwold as an advantage. The Marchers who live in Mournwold are also the only Imperial humans with a positive experience of living alongside orc neighbours that they cooperate with. That might prove useful if the Sane Fishers choose to remain in significant numbers. Perhaps they might even be persuaded to join the Mournwold Thralls maybe? The Empire has never tried to facilitate one group of foreigners assimilating another, but it could be attempted.

Away from the Semmerlak, the barren ground would prove a challenge to anyone attempting to farm it. But the Marchers love a challenge almost as much as they love land. If anyone can make these plains fertile it is them. The Marches would be second only to Dawn in their ability to make Ossium capable of supporting additional Imperial armies. It would seem difficult to link the territory to the Bread Basket, but perhaps another smaller structure might be built here for the people of Ossium if the Marchers settled it.

Navarr

There has never been a Navarr territory that has not had a vallorn in it - but the vallorn is long cleared from Miaren which has become a settled forest haven. The woods of Ossium are a long way from that - but the Navarr are the finest woodsfolk in the Empire. Nobody is better equipped to deal with the dark things in the forest than them. Assuming they do not all end up under the control of the Thule of course - who seem to have a particular interest in them. While it has never held a vallorn - the forests do appear to adjoin Skuld in the north and that territory does contain a vallorn. As a result any trods here are likely to be important.

Assigning Ossium to the Navarr would have one other useful outcome. The Navarr are adept at helping people find their place in the Empire. Whichever nation ends up with the territory, it is clear that some people here are likely to want to settle elsewhere. If the territory were Navarr that process would be civilised, painless, and trouble-free.

Urizen

The landscape of Ossium is little like the traditional Urizen homelands and none of the people that have been discovered thus far have much in common with them. However the Ketsov are clearly highly literate and have a philosophical nature that might be incorporated into Urizen culture. The territory isn't contiguous with Urizen, which would make it more difficult to connect the land to the Heliopticon network, but it might be possible if the Barrens were conquered and settled.

It would be difficult for the Urizen to settle and develop the territory economically or militarily. The Urizen have few farmers or fishermen and the population of Ossium might well go down rather than up if it is assigned to Urizen. However the territory clearly has some powerful magical sites and Urizeni inhabitants would undoubtedly be best placed to take advantage of those on the Empire's behalf. Crucially the territory would provide just enough support to help support the Citadel Guard once it was fully settled - assuming that were still necessary.

Varushka

The civil service have identified a number of potential benefits of assigning Ossium to Varushka. Quite apart from the fact that the territory is adjacent to the existing Varushkan territories, the inhabitants of the town of Ketsov appear to be Varushkan in origin. There is a great mithril mine here, something that could be readily exploited by the Varushkans who are the best miners in the Empire bar none - and indeed the miners of Moresvah have taken the lead on exploiting this new Imperial resource. In addition the territory shares a border with the Thule. While they are currently allies of the Empire, they may not remain so forever. However the Varushkans have experience of dealing with them and seem on relatively good terms, so may make the best neighbours.

It is clear that there are fell powers at work in the dark forests in the north part of the territory. If those areas are not to be completely abandoned to the Thule, a nation like Varushka who has skill bargaining with dark powers might be best placed to deal with the issues arising there.

Wintermark

Much of Ossium is a marsh and of all the people of the Empire, none have more experience of life in a wetland than the Kallevesi. They would be prepared to settle the territory in numbers once the Sand Fishers dispersed. Some of the people displaced from Sermersuaq when that territory was conquered by the Jotun might also be keen to move here, as might some of those who left Skarsind when it was given over to the Imperial Orcs. The Ketsov appear very different to the Wintermarkers on the face of it, but their skill as artisans belies that. Some of the finest artisans in the Empire are from Wintermark, the land that discovered the runes might have much to offer the Ketsov and some would adapt to life and become Steinr and Suaq in time (they Ketsov appear to consider living in a marsh to be the worst fate imaginable).

The challenges posed by the dark forests in the north of the territory might tempt brave Wintermark citizens to settle here, keen for a chance to prove their heroism. The border with the Thule would be a challenge - the northern orcs have never enjoyed good relations with the people of the Mark. On the other hand that might prove a benefit if the Empire is keen for the nation that lays claim to Ossium to ensure that the Thule are kept in their place.

Relinquishment

Since its foundation, the assignment of a territory has been irreversible. The only way a territory might change nation, even theoretically, was if it was conquered and then later recaptured by the Empire. In theory that would have created the opportunity to assign it to a different nation, but in practice that option was never exercised.

The likely reason for that was the enormous costs involved in settling a territory. It is one thing to assign a territory for the first time, but once the people of that territory become part of a nation, they form bonds with the egregore and quickly adopt the cultural identity of that nation. Once that happens, it becomes significantly more difficult, more expensive, and more controversial to change a territory's assigned nation.

Now that the Imperial Senate has formally adopted the power of relinquishment it is now possible to assign the territory to one nation and then to change that status at a later summit. The civil service advise great caution if the Senate is considering this approach however. While it is legally possible, it is important to appreciate that doing so will have deep and unpredictable consequences. Once the inhabitants of the territory have been formally adopted by a nation, they are as likely to respond favourably to being told that they must now all change nation having as the assembled host of Marcher heroes at Anvil would take to being told that they must all stop being Marchers and become Dawnish.

It is not that it couldn't be done - Skarsind proved it can be done. But it would be expensive and difficult and cause great unhappiness if the people who lived there were not fully persuaded of the merits of the decision. Otherwise the most likely outcome would be a revolt or rebellion of some kind.

Economics and Logistics

Assigning the territory to the League, Varushka, the Marches or the Brass Coast would have the best long term economic prospects - in terms of increased taxation - in roughly that order. However the League, the Marches and the Brass Coast would all need extensive development to reach that potential - especially the League.

The Imperial Orcs, Urizen and Dawn would present the least potential gain in taxation for the Imperial Senate, significantly less than the other nations. There is little to separate Navarr, Highguard, and Wintermark, any differences between them would be less important than the decisions the Empire took when developing the nation.

The territory would provide the most military support to Dawn, and the least to Urizen, but Dawn, the Marches, and Varushka would all be able to support an additional Imperial army relatively quickly if the territory were assigned to them. The Imperial Orcs, Highguard, the League, Navarr, the Brass Coast and Wintermark might eventually be able to support an additional army with the benefits gained from Ossium after extensive suitable development of the territory. In the case of the Imperial Orcs, they would still need to resolve their population problems. Ossium could provide only small logistical benefits to Urizen at best.

Resolution

The Imperial Senate chose to assign Ossium to the Varushkan people. The new territory is now part of that nation, and has elected its first Imperial senator.

The Senate further chose to recognise the Sand Fisher orcs as foreigners - giving them the protection of Imperial law as long as they abide by it. The status of the Ketsov humans, and any other former Druj subjects, are still a little uncertain.