"I could kill him from here, and he'd never know what hit him," said Alov. He nocked an arrow but made no motion to draw. Kassa would have slapped him if he had.

"I don't doubt it, but what about all those schlacta?" She asked, patiently. "Can you kill all of them without them knowing what hit them?"

"I'm not sure they are all actually schlacta," he replied, shading his eyes to get a better look at the little caravan wending its way between the trees at the bottom of the hill. "The armour's wrong for a start, and they..."

"Whether they're schlacta or not hardly matters," interrupted Kassa. "You shoot one merchant, or priest, or whatever he is, and then what?"

"We're too fast for those lumbering oxen," scoffed Alov. "They'd be stumbling around in the undergrowth while we were picking off the rest of them, and gone before the last body hit the ground."

"I can't believe even you are that stupid, Alov," she said, her patience beginning to fray. He shot her a hurt look, as much from her tone as her words. "When a half dozen of them turn up with our arrows stuck in their necks, what do you think they'll do? Do you think they'll blame the crows? Start looking for husks with bows? Roust the Branocfolk? Be serious. They'll come straight to us, and they'll kill us."

"Got to find us first," muttered Alov without looking at her. But he put his arrow back in its quiver and let his bow fall. "I know these woods better than they do."

"And what about everyone else? Do you think the Varushkans will care which orcs shot their priest? What in all the wide forest makes you think they'll care about something like that?"

Alov mumbled something.

"What was that?"

He cleared his throat. "We could ask the Battlefed to protect us."

"We could, but how would be different to making a deal with the Varushkans?"

Alov opened his mouth and shut it again.

"I know you're young, Alov," she said more gently. "I know your ancestors are telling you that these are our woods and we should take them back but... we have to live in the world as it is and not as we'd like it to be. Not in the memory of a thousand years past. We live on the threshold of a power that could snuff us out without even thinking about it. Worse, could make it so that within a generation nobody would remember we had ever existed. You may not like it, but we have to be realistic. We have to make whatever accommodations we can with them, or they will just... eat us."

That made Alov laugh.

"They don't really eat orcs, Kassa. That's just a silly story to scare young'uns. I know I'm young but even I don't believe that!"

But Kassa didn't laugh, and Alov's humour faltered, and they sat quietly watching the caravan snake its way up the hillside toward their home.

Highguard wishes Varushka to be our Partner in Greatness this season. In Juha the Cave Spider's example, we wish to support this great nation in building bonds through trading with, and finding out about, their mortal non-Imperial neighbours. We send Jared of the Suns of Couros with 25 liao to convince our benefactors and unconquered to offer their support to their Varushkan siblings so their lands may be tamed and harnessed further.

Jared of the Suns of Couros,Mandate, Highborn Assembly

Varushka is very large, and we must acknowledge that we share it with fellow sapient beings - the orcs. We send Velko Perunovich Razoradze with 50 doses of liao to urge any Varushkan who can do so to make peaceful contact with the orcs who share our hills and forests, consider their virtue, and discover what deals might be made with them.

Vaclav Mladenovich Kosti, Mandate, Varushkan Assmebly


During the Winter Solstice, the Varushkan National Assembly enacted a mandate urging traders, merchants, and volhov to seek to make peaceful contact with orcs living in their nation. Velko Perunovich Razoradze was sent to spread the word, and encourage people to make deals with the orcs - including the Thule. At the same time, the Highborn assembly enacted a mandate of their own, sending Jared of the Suns of Couros to support the Varushkans in their approach to the orcs.

The most prominent group of orcs in Varushka are of course the Thule, who thanks to various treaties and alliances control the regions of Miechernya in Miekarova, Krevsaty in Karsk, and both the Bonewood and Webwood in Ossium. Since the peace treaty of 382YE, the orcs of Otkodov have by all accounts been keen for good relations with their neighbours to the south. The Ambassador to Otkodov, for example, is traditionally Varushkan and while the Thule cannot demand that an Imperial title be given to members of a specific nation, there is a widespread understanding that if the Ambassador is not from Varushka the orcs will be unhappy. Trade with the Thule has been quietly taking place for some years now, most notably via Delev Market in Karov, but that doesn't mean that other avenues might not be found to ensure mutual prosperity.

They aren't the only orcs in Varushka, however. There have always been small independent septs that live in isolation across the hills and forests of the nation, keeping very much to themselves. They face the same dangers as their human neighbours - the threats of dark powers and monsters from the wild places. Indeed, given the violent history of relations between Varushkans and orcs until very recently, their settlements are even more likely to be overrun by wolves given they must inhabit the most isolated parts of the wilderness, far from human vales. Most of these septs are relatively peaceful, although few have any real contact with the Varushkans. Any that were not peaceful, any that thought to raid the vales, were either wiped out or enslaved generations ago. There are also a handful of small groups who fought for freedom during the orc rebellion, but for whatever reason refused to become part of the Imperial Orcs and join the Empire. The status of these septs is a little nebulous, but for the most part these days Imperial law assumes they are foreigners unless they give a good reason to think otherwise.

Finally, there are three other larger septs who are reasonably well known, who live mostly in the eastern territories. The orcs of Branoc have several small vales in the vicinity of the Broken Hill and have some sort of relationship with the sovereign known as the Charnel Lord. The sept of the Menrothat live in southern Ossium, and are perhaps the largest group of independent orcs in the nation. Finally there are the Dreamers of the Dark Forest, also in Ossium, whose aid has been sought regarding the threat of Druj invasion from the Forest of Ulnak.

As the Summer Solstice approaches, then, the seeds of a season of cautious contact with the other sapient creatures who share the woods and hills of Varushka are beginning to sprout, for good or ill.

Pride and prejudice.png
The Thule are always eager to trade with their human neighbours to the south, but they are not the only orcs that live in the wilderness of Varushka.

From Over the Mountains

  • The Thule are the closest orc neighbours for many Varushkans

The largest group of orcs in Varushka are the Thule - although technically they are not in Varushka as such. Krevsaty and Miechernya were ceded to them, and so legally they are part of Otkodov. The orcs are well settled in both regions; indeed they have constructed large fortifications in both east and west and show no signs that they are planning to leave any time soon. There is already some trade between the Thule and the vales that border their lands, and by all accounts those involved are doing quite well thank you.

It's an open secret that since freeing their slaves, the Thule have been having some problems keeping all their people well fed. Merchants trading with the orcs of Otkodov report rumours of starvation, and the Thule Ambassador Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons-Undivided has not denied it. During the recent meeting at Anvil, Fania Vessely-Vanek, the Ambassador to Otkodov, broached the subject of closer trade links between Otkodov and Varushka, and when the first cautious approaches are made to the orcs in Krevsaty and Miechernya, they already have some proposals to put forward to those who are interested.

Gift of the Dwindling Star

  • It would cost 8 white granite, 16 crowns and take three months to expand the Dwindling Star
  • Once complete, it would allow the title-holder to purchase up to 4 extra rings of ilium from the Thule
  • These benefits would end if the Empire ever went to war with the Thule
The High Path
Commission Type: Ministry.
Location: Volodmartz, Brez
Cost: 8 white granite, 16 crowns, three months
Effect: Allows the trade of food for ilium
Time Limit: The opportunity to commission the High Path is only available until the end of the Summer Solstice 385YE, and if work is not completed before the start of the Autumn Equinox 385YE the commission fails
Time Limit: This commission has required elements; if any are not all fulfilled then it does nothing
Trade with Volodmartz
CostRed Star Ilium
23 Crowns1 ring of ilium
54 Crowns2 rings of ilium
88 Crowns3 rings of ilium
130 Crowns4 rings of ilium

The offices of the Gift of the Dwindling Star are three rooms above an inn in Brez. The ilium provided by the Thule is usually brought down through the mountains by a well-guarded warlock, carried in a strongbox marked with runes and bound with wards. Opportunities for trade are limited - but during the most recent exchange the warlock delivering the ilium came with a proposal for consideration by the holder of the seat - currently the newly appointed Fretek Sargava Slavomiryn. Currently the Thule provide four rings of ilium each season, taken from the glowing red comet that smashed into the Thule territory of Sküld following an arrangement with the magicians of Varushka. The Dragons have, after considerable discussion, approved the proposal that more of the star metal be made available through the office at Brez.

The path up the mountains into Otkodov is not easy, but it could be made more accessible. It would still be of little use to armies but there are places where it could be widened or levelled to allow larger groups of travellers to pass without risk. The Thule know that the Varushkans are masters of the art of road building, and if they are prepared to work with the orcs of Otkodov, a path could be cut through the mountain. This would give the Bourse seat holder the option to purchase a larger share of the ilium mined from the fallen star - and give the Thule Dragons funds to buy food to feed their people.

Once complete, the High Path would allow trade through the mountains to take place on a larger scale than one warlock visiting four times a year. At first, the majority of the goods being purchased by the Thule would be foodstuffs, but the markets there would also see demand for fine quality crafted goods, honey wine and mead, Varushkan textiles, and other quality products of the nation's economy. For the time being though the emphasis would overwhelmingly be on food - and if the work is not completed before the start of the Autumn equinox, it will be too late to provide food to the orcs of the north. As such, it must be commissioned at the Summer Solstice, and work must be completed before the Autumn Equinox, or the commission will fail.

Masks of the Trees and Hills

  • A warlock named Orathator has special masks to trade with the Warden of Trees and Hills and the Gloaming Sentinel

The Warden's Hall was established at Ivarsgard in Karsk initially to deal with the influx of former Druj slaves freed by the Thule armies from the Bonewood during the liberation of Ossium. These days it mostly serves as a place for those with jobs to offer to post notices, or interview potential candidates, and helps supply workers for farms, mines, forests, and businesses not only in Karsk but in parts of the neighbouring territories. It is ably overseen by the Warden of the Trees and Hills, who is also responsible for promoting the prosperity of Karsk as a whole, and charged with mediating any disputes between mine and forest owners in the territory.

Since the liberation of Ossium, one of the warlocks who escorted the former slaves to Ivarsgard has been trading across central Varushka. Now based in Miechernya, Orathator of the Hourglass leads a caravan of merchants who are particularly interested in purchasing iridescent gloaming from the forests of Varushka. Following the Spring Equinox, a group of Varushkan and Highborn pilgrims shared a Navarr wayhouse in Srodkoja and spent several days discussing and negotiating.

It appears that Orathator is a master of enchantment, specifically the kind of enchantments that bring prosperity to mines and forests. Part of his successes trading with Varushkans came from a willingness to provide the occasional enchantment in return for the lion's share of the bounty his magic brought. At the urging of a fascinated magister, he shows the assembly his Mask of the Dark Woods and his Mask of the Deep Hills - a pair of foci that he makes regular use of. After further discussion, Orathator admits that he assumed that Imperial magicians already made use of similar talismans, but also agrees that if there is interest he could add providing some of these magic items to the list of services his caravan can provide. Assuming the Dragons do not object.

Orathator's travels take him all over Varushka, but there are two places he always makes a point of visiting. The Butterfly Holt in Miekarova, and the town of Ivarsgard on the edge of the Semmerlak. He could deliver masks for sale to either location, but stresses that there is a limited supply, and he would want something in return.

Masks for the Warden

Orathator's Masks
20 crowns1 Mask of the Dark Woods
20 crowns1 Mask of the Deep Hills
42 crowns1 Mask of the Dark Woods and 1 Mask of the Deep Hills
42 crowns2 Masks of the Deep Hills
42 crowns2 Masks of the Dark Woods
66 crowns2 Masks of the Deep Hills and 1 Mask of the Dark Woods
66 crowns2 Masks of the Dark Woods and 1 Mask of the Deep Hills
  • The Warlock is keen to receive Varushkan assistance in gaining access to the 'Well of Shadows'
  • If access is secured Orathator will provide magical masks for purchase by the Warden of the Trees and Hills

In a candid moment, Orathator admits that part of his interest in Varushka, and Miekarova in particular, is the presence somewhere in the territory of a place he calls the Well of Shadows. According to Orathator, the Well is a magical, somewhat mobile, chamber of the Night realm belonging to the eternal he calls the Dark-that-Devours. At one point it stood in Skarsind where it was called Pakannan's Tower but the eternal moved it. His attempts to secure access have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Brother of Wizards and he doesn't know why. Nor can he find the actual location; he suspects that the same wards that keep the place safe from the depredations of monsters are making it difficult to locate. However, the warlock is aware that the eternal has a soft spot for some Varushkan magicians, and if they are prepared to use their influence on his behalf to gain him access to the Well, he will arrange for the Warden of the Trees and Hills to be able to purchase up to three masks each season.

The warlock has no idea how Varushkan wizards could influence the eternal, but at least contacting them is quite straightforward. The same magister who persuaded him to show off his masks mentions privately to their Varushkan hosts that they recall last Autumn there was talk of the Eater of Secrets organising some kind of game related to a Well, and that one of their fellow Highborn was mentioned.

Masks for the Sentinel

  • Orathator regularly visits the Butterfly Holt in Miekarova and is prepared to offer magical masks to the Gloaming Sentinel as well
  • In return he wants a specific ritual from Imperial lore that he believes will improve his prestige in the eyes of his fellow warlocks

Among the warlocks - or Orathator's peers at any rate - prestige is measured by the rituals the orc knows. Those with mastery of more uncommon rituals have more prestige than those who know only the basic rites and ceremonies. There is fierce competition among warlocks like Orathator to possess useful knowledge. The Dragons rarely bother to intervene directly, but access to specific rituals is often closely controlled by one Dragon or another and those without their favour cannot master their rituals. While travelling through Varushka, Orathator has kept his eyes open for opportunities to secure such lore for himself, and has finally settled on a ritual he would very much like to master.

The warlock has never come across the ritual Delve Deep, Beneath the Mountain back home. He doesn't doubt that something like it exists in the great catacomb-library of Nithoggir but he does not have the influence to access it. He would very much like to acquire a copy for himself. It's clear he isn't asking on behalf of the Dragons, or the Thule as a whole, he wants a ritual text so that he can use it to improve his prestige...and also potentially his wealth by offering it to mine owners on both sides of the mountains. He seems quite up-front in his reasoning - the Dragons do not prioritize precious metal over ingots of weltsilver and the like so have little interest in magic that makes it easier to find. But there are plenty of orcs in Otkodov who appreciate precious metals and jewels.

If the Imperial Conclave is prepared to Disseminate a copy of that ritual to him, he will arrange for the Gloaming Sentinel to be able to purchase up to three masks each season (using the same costs as offered to the Warden of the Trees and Hills). He doesn't know exactly how the Conclave would do this, only that they are able to do so, but seems confident that whatever the price is, the Gloaming Sentinel will be able to make the cost back in a few seasons if they are clever about how they use the masks.

Limited Opportunities

Both opportunities remain available until the end of the Winter Solstice 385YE. If the Varushkans or the Conclave have not completed a deal with Orathator by that point they will lose the chance to do so.

Mask of the Dark Woods

  • Form: Mask
  • Effect: +1 rank for a ritual that targets a forest. The ritual must specifically target a forest, using the character who controls it as a focus. If the ritual targets more than one forest, the bonus increases to +2. The rituals known to the Empire that this effects are Rampant Growth, Verdant Bounty of the Twilight Bayou, Conclave of Trees and Shadows, and Flame and the Flood.

Mask of the Deep Hills

  • Form: Mask
  • Effect: +1 rank for a ritual that targets a mine. The ritual must specifically target a mine, using the character who controls it as a focus. If the ritual targets more than one mine, the bonus increases to +2. The rituals known to the Empire that this effects are Revelation of the Jewel's Sparkling Heart, Delve Deep Beneath the Mountain, Raise the Dragonsworn Cohort, and An Echo of Songs.

Warlocks of Mirnatocz

Red Moss
3 dragonbone2 doses of red moss
7 dragonbone5 doses of red moss
12 dragonbone8 doses of red moss
  • The Warlocks of Mirnatocz are prepared to make a peculiar red moss popular with the orcs of Otkodov available to the Varushkans
  • In return they want access to the Sarcophan Mooring at Iversgard

At one point Mirnatocz in Krevsaty was a tiny settlement near the border with Crowslook. It fell to the Thule in 368YE, and the cabal who once lived there either died or fled. Barely a vale, it consisted mostly of a squat tower with a wall around it. What made it notable was that it was settled near the Spider's Tears, a regio aligned to the realm of Winter, connected to the eternal known as Grandmother Winter. Apparently, some kink in the local magical geography meant that the cabalists struggled to get the flows of magic to align in the correct manner meaning they were always suffering a shortage of mana crystals. They raised money to buy this vital resource by selling potions of use to ritual magicians.

Now, the tower is home to a coven of Thule warlocks who don't seem to mind the difficulty of acquiring crystal mana (they are well supplied by their peers apparently), but welcome opportunities to expand their influence by trading with their Imperial neighbours. In addition to the warlocks themselves, the tower is apparently home to several apothecaries, and they appear to be particularly proud of the nearby regio. While visiting, they show their guests a peculiar red moss which they say is highly valued by their battle-mages and healers. They are evasive about how it is cultivated, confirming only that the process requires access to both dragonbone and "the right kind of Winter regio." When properly prepared the red moss is consumed to increase the personal magical reserves of a magician, much like a tonic might increase the constitution of a warrior. It is of minimal use to ritual magicians, but potentially quite valuable to spellcasters.

The warlocks are prepared to trade some of the prepared moss with the Varushkans but, in the spirit of quid-pro-quo, they want something in return. They are aware that "foreign merchants who trade in potions and herbs" regularly visit the vale of Ivarsgard: they are referring to the Sarcophan Mooring. Technically, there is no legal reason the Thule can't visit Ivarsgard and talk to the Sarcophan merchants, but they lack the facilities to engage in any serious trade. They would like the Custodian of Ivarsgard Docks to set aside a warehouse for their use, in lieu of rent they will ensure a supply of red moss is made available for purchase with measures of dragonbone. They could do what they wished with the unfamiliar material - use it themselves, give it as gifts, or sell it on.

The warlocks have already secured the blessing of the Thule Ambassador to make this approach, although apparently Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons-Undivided was sceptical about whether Imperial magicians would be interested in the red moss. All that is needed is for the Custodian to give permission, and for the Ambassador to Otkodov to tell the Thule that that permission has been given.

Alternative Access

  • It is possible to steal the secret of cultivating and preparing the red moss from the warlocks
  • The Varushkan or Highborn Assembly could use a mandate to steal the secret of red moss
  • The Shuttered Lantern could use a declaration of concord to steal the secret

While visiting the Mirnatocz orcs, and examining the red moss, a wagon raider named Urod Malok Malkeivitch comes away with a slightly different proposal in mind, one that is backed up by a Highborn unconquered named Bathsheba of Corous Cross. It seems that the red moss is just a plant - albeit one like Realmsroot that needs careful cultivation in a specific environment. It is not possible to use the processed substance the warlocks are offering to work out how the herb was grown and prepared. but Urod says it is possible to just flat-out steal the secret of the manufacture from Mirnatocz and replicate it elsewhere.

The Varushkan Synod could encourage their wagon raiders to carry out a discreet raid on the tower to steal the secret of red moss.

Consequences are the price of Ambition. We send {named priest} with 25 doses of liao to urge the wagon-raiders to find a covert way to steal the secret of red moss from the Thule. No price is too high to realise our dreams.

Synod Mandate, Varushkan National Assembly

Velko Perunovich Razoradze has provided wording for an alternate mandate.

The virtuous despise treachery. We send {named priest} with 25 doses of liao to remind Varushkans that because of our efforts the empire has strong codes of law and civil servants, we uphold their laws and the Thule Peace Treaty of 382YE. This treaty forbids raiding and sending soldiers into the Thule lands, and we shall prevent any such raids to steal the secrets of the red moss from taking place. Any who do not turn back will be dealt with.

Synod Mandate, Varushkan National Assembly

This mandate is in competition with the mandate in the Varushka National Assembly. If it is enacted this mandate will result in Varushkans trying to stop any who try to steal the secret of the red moss from the Thule. If anyone is instructed to try to take the red moss then there will be bloodshed.

Bathsheba feels likewise that the unconquered could uncover the secret of creating the red moss if they were authorised to do so by the Highborn Assembly.

Wisdom is finding the right question. We send {named priest} with 25 doses of liao to ask the Unconquered to discreetly acquire the secret of red moss from the Thule and spread it to the Empire. The Virtuous apply what they have learned.

Synod Mandate, Highborn National Assembly

There is no chance of red moss becoming widespread across the Empire - if such a thing were possible then the Empire would have discovered its secrets years ago. But if either mandate is passed then it will lead to a chance to steal the secret of it's manufacture from the Thule and an opportunity to create the substance somewhere in the nation that took it. These mandates are not in competition, if both mandates are passed, both nations will gain a chance to cultivate red moss somewhere in the nation if they succeed in acquiring the secret.

The Conclave order of the Shuttered Lantern would also be capable of uncovering the secret of red moss and how it is grown and prepared, should the Imperial Conclave ask them to do so with a suitably worded Declaration of Concord. Due to the delicacy of the task, only local members of the order would be involved - so the chance to cultivate red moss would only occur in Varushka if this happened and the attempt to steal the secret succeeded.

All three groups, the Shuttered Lantern, the wagon raiders and the unconquered would make every effort to be as subtle as possible. They are all highly capable people, they will not be discovered in the act. However it is inevitable at some point that the warlocks will discover that the Empire has learned the secret of red moss - and they will suspect the Empire has spied on them. However, unless someone reputable (such as the Ambassador to Otkodov) actually tells them about it, they won't act on their suspicions unless they gain clear evidence of the act.

Technically the act is not illegal, since the treaty doesn't forbid espionage and spying - which is what this would amount to. It is certainly pushing the bounds of what the treaty does allow however and the Dragons will be furious if they uncover the truth of what has happened.

The Orcs of Branoc

Leshun Market
Commission Type: Ministry
Location: Branoc, Karsk
Cost: 16 weirwood, 3 thrones, three months to complete
Effect: Creates the title of Speaker to the Leshun
Time Limit: If Leshun market is not commissioned by the end of the Winter Solstice 385YE the opportunity is lost
Opportunity: This commission has required elements; if any are not all fulfilled the commission does nothing
Speaker to the Leshun
Type: Varushkan national position
Appointment: Annual appointment; Tally of the Votes
Powers: Receives access to a sinecure
Responsibilities: Ensures good relation with the Leshun; mediates between orcs and Varushkans throughout the nation
Opportunity: This title has required elements; if any are not all fulfilled the title does not gain some or all of its powers
At the Market
7 crowns6 Ambergelt, 4 Bladeroot, 4 Imperial Roseweald
17 crowns12 Ambergelt, 8 Bladeroot, 8 Imperial Roseweald
30 crowns18 Ambergelt, 12 Bladeroot, 12 Imperial Roseweald
65 crowns18 Ambergelt, 12 random measures, 12 Bladeroot, 12 Imperial Roseweald, 18 random herbs
  • The Branoc orcs have contacts with several other orc septs
  • With their aid a market could be established in Branoc specifically to deal with Varushkan orcs
  • The Speaker to the Leshun would have custodianship of a small ministry and mediate between orcs and Varushkans when needed

Everyone knew orcs lived in the hills and forests of northern Karsk. Occasionally they would raid smaller vales, but for the most part they survived mostly by not giving the Varushkans a reason to wipe them out, or take them as slaves. They were often seen visiting the Broken Barrow, presumably making blood-offerings to the Charnel Lord in return for protection from the horrors of the wild woods, and on a few occasions when they were threatened the sovereign interceded on their behalf, further discouraging anyone from enslaving or driving them out. The few scholars who gave any thought to them at all assumed they were descended from Thule raiders, or were simply the descendants of the same orcs who lived in the hills and forests of Karsk before the coming of humans.

Things changed when the Thule invaded Karsk in 368YE. The small orc settlements in Krevsaty and Nitrost were conquered along with their human neighbours, and they received noticeably worse treatment from the occupying forces. Those who could sought sanctuary in Branoc, and fought alongside the humans there as part of the sinister army of the Broken Hill. After the war, the remaining orcs stayed in Branoc, and founded an independent settlement near Broken Hill. They apparently call themselves the Sept of the Leshun, although they don't object to being referred to as the orcs of Branoc either. While they haven't been formally recognised as foreigners by the Imperial Senate, they already engaged in some quiet trade with their neighbouring vales. For the most part they continue to live quiet lives away from human eyes.

At the urging of the recent mandate, more effort has been made to widen the opportunities for trade with these orcs. It turns out that the sept has loose ties with several similar settlements of orcs not only in Karsk, but also in Volodmartz. The orcs are cautious, and the initial meetings are fraught with the potential for disaster, but the support of the Highborn proves surprisingly useful. The ancestors of the Leshun have a low opinion of the Varushkans but the Highborn are a cipher. They're also able to draw on recent experiences in the Barrens, as well as historical work with the Imperial Orcs when they joined the Empire. Once the ice is broken, the Varushkans are able to find some common ground with the orcs and they cautiously agree to formalise trade with their human neighbours.

The Leshun are talented hunters, making use of peculiar wards that help them avoid the wolves of the deep woods, and are also adept herbalists. They tend to several forest groves, enjoying particular success at gathering ambergelt. They even have a small number of ritual magicians among their number, primarily practitioners of the lores of Winter and Spring. Perhaps more importantly, they have contacts with several of the scattered independent septs that live in the depths of Varushka, and could reassure them that the Varushkan overtures are sincere - assuming they were.

The suggestion is that the Varushkans establish a small market outside the main Leshun settlement in Branoc, the village that shares its name with the sept. This would cost 16 wains of weirwood, 3 thrones, and take three months to complete. It would establish the title of Speaker to the Leshun, who would receive custodianship of a small ministry related to trade with the orcs. They would be responsible for keeping relations with the Leshun, but also for mediating any disputes between independent orcs and Varushkans that might arise. Legally, the Imperial Consul has authority to deal with any independent orcs in the Empire, or at least to negotiate with them. The Leshun are not interested in such high-scale politics however; they just want someone they can bring problems to if they arise.

The current opportunity is available until the end of the Winter Solstice 385YE. If not commissioned by then, the Leshun will continue to live quietly in Branoc but will not welcome a market, or speak to the other septs of Varushka, unless further overtures are made.

Menrothrat in Ossium

Saroso Menrothat is an elder of the sept. A Winged Messenger can be sent to her at The Centipede Stump, Drownbark Forest, Ossium.
  • The Menrothat have cautious relations with some of the vales of Ossium
  • They would be much more amenable to trade with the Varushkans if the region of Farweald in the Barrens was restored to them

The Menrothat are one of the largest septs of independent orcs in Varushka. Based in Nearwald in Ossium, there are also members in the south-eastern Echofell, the eastern Drownbark Forest, the western Forest of Ulnak, and the northern Barrens. They are particularly cautious around the Varushkans, and seem to take special pains to hide their true numbers from the Imperials. One Navarr who encountered them drew parallels with the feni of the west - although these orcs are not interested in raiding their neighbours. They are by all accounts a peculiar bunch, even by the standards of the Ossium orcs. In some ways they are reminiscent of the Great Forest Orcs, but with a much harsher "edge" to them. They speak of having a particular connection to the trees and insects, which they refuse to discuss in too much detail, but they do explain that if they leave the hidden groves where they abide, then none of their people will ever be able to cross the Howling Abyss and all will be condemned to oblivion. When the Druj ruled Ossium, their status was much closer to that of the Ketsov than the other subjects - the Druj mostly left them to their own devices as long as they did not step out of line and provided a certain number of warriors each year to fight alongside their armies.

After the initial contact, which was mostly handled by Imperial Orcs and Navarr, they proved happy to provide guides and even workers to the eastern vales in return for appropriate wages, and were even prepared to provide tithes - something they are used to doing for their hated masters. They are clearly covered by the Senate's declaration that the orcs of Ossium are foreigners, and so there is no legal impediment to trade with the sept. There is a limit to how much they are prepared to cooperate with the Empire, however. If they do too much, there would be risk of reprisals against their people who are still under the yoke of the Druj in the Forest of Ulnak, or who are still forced to serve the armies of the Mallum as scouts and assassins.

When Varushkan merchants reach out to them the main topic of conversation is the disposition of Farweald. As discussed during the second meeting with the Empire, the heart of the Menrothat lies in a region of forest in the northern Barrens. Dominated by the Druj for a very long time - even before the Barrens as a whole was under the control of the Mallum - the Menrothat have been barred from parts of the forest they see as their ancestral heartland. Now that the Empire has conquered the territory and defeated the Druj, the Menrothat would very much like to see their ancestral heartland returned to them. They have already made an agreement with the Imperial Orcs: in return for giving the Menrothat the region of Farweald, the Menrothat will give the Imperial orcs their greatest treasure - a single dose of black lotus - and will also share what they know of preparing and using it.

They are content for the moment to live in Ossium as guests of the Varushkan hosts, but more than anything else they want the forests of their homeland returned to them, so that they can live there in the manner of their ancestors. If the Varushkans were to facilitate that, then they would be happy to establish strong trade links with the nation that now dominates Ossium. Until then, however, they will continue to restrict their involvement to the services they are currently providing to the individual vales. Should any Varushkans wish to negotiate further, they can speak with elder Saroso Menrothat, via Winged Messenger.

Shrines at Orieb

Eternal Shrine
4 crowns2 doses of vis
10 crowns4 doses of vis
18 crowns6 doses of vis
  • The Menrothat could assist the Varushkans in expanding the Palace of Orieb to include shrines
  • Each shrine would need to have an eternal patron to function
  • Up to six shrines could be added; but only one for each realm
  • Each shrine would allow the title holder to purchase vis

There is one area, however, where the Menrothat are prepared to offer immediate assistance to the Varushkans. The Palace of Orieb was once home to two "shrines" that were used for ceremonies in which the ghulai of the Bone Serpent clan made offerings to their "spirit patrons" and in return received "treasure" - magical syrup and shards of frozen flame. Recreating the shrines seems to be relatively simple; a solid stone plinth and an effigy of mithril and weirwood that incorporated a bowl in which to place offerings and receive gifts. The findings of Skywise Slu and Blackbeak Ussa mention ways that herbs and berries were used to venerate the statues in ways that caused the bowls to fill with vis. Sadly, experiments to see if the Varushkans can repeat these effects have resulted in cramps and fatigue rather than precious vis. Clearly any deal agreed by Zask Bonetwister had lapsed.

The Menrothat know the secret of drawing on the power of the Palace; their people were often forced to perform these acts for the Druj. They claim that the palace stands above a fallen star, that warps and changes the magical nature of the area. The Menrothat ancestors once used it as a place to speak with the eternals - such as at Marshstand Skerry - but the Druj took it and turned it into something else. If the Varushkans want to start drawing on the full power of the place, they will need to find eternals willing to act as patrons for the shrines - a maximum of one of each realm. Once such a deal was agreed, the eternal would need to be provided with a single ring of ilium to seal the deal and allow them to connect to the Palace. After this, the Apothecary would be able to start harvesting vis of that realm from the palace.

Anyone could theoretically pursue such deals but it would require the Apothecary of Orieb to agree to the deal, and if the Menrothat are to be believed it would always require offerings of some kind to secure the gifts the palace could offer. There was some worry that such deals could be considered idolatry - and indeed they could still be judged by the Synod to be such - but the recent mandate enacted by Amris Johan Merikovich has done much to allay those concerns. What is such propitiation if not bargaining with dark powers?

Mission of Mercy

  • The Highborn visiting Varushka particularly question the virtue of allowing the Thule former slaves to starve
  • The Highborn assembly may take action to offer aid to the orc underclass

Some of the Highborn who visit Varushka and speak to the orcs there have a slightly different perspective on their experiences. The opportunity to see the Thule close-up, as something other than enemies. They are especially concerned about the plight of the former slaves; the fact the Dragons will not compromise to stop their people suffering causes some heated debates about virtue. In the end some of those who visit the north return convinced that it is more vital than ever before to reach out to the Thule underclass, not only to bring them the spiritual strength the Way can offer, but to help them secure the basic necessities the Dragons' stubbornness and cruel tyranny is denying them.

All that is worthwhile is shared with those who deserve it. We will not allow the former slaves of the Thule to suffer, no matter what the Dragons say. We send {named priest} with 50 doses of liao to urge unconquered, wayfarers, and grey pilgrims to travel north and deliver food, clothing, and aid to the former slaves of the Thule. We ask the benefactors to encourage and support this endeavour, so that those involved may claim the just rewards of their labour.

Synod Mandate, Highguard National Assembly

If this mandate is enacted, it will encourage those able to do so to travel in secret to areas controlled by the Thule, initially those regions that are part of Imperial territories. They would make contact with the former slaves and deliver food, clothes, blankets, and basic tools. Wherever possible they would provide teaching in essential skills such as literacy. While this mission of mercy would take precedence, there would also be opportunities to speak on the matter of virtue.

The mandate would create the opportunity for Highborn military units belonging to characters with the unconquered archetype to undertake the adventure Mission of Mercy, found in the spy network dropdown during downtime. In place of the normal production of a military unit they would receive nothing. The former slaves of the Thule have nothing to give. It is the expectation of the Highborn proposing the mission of mercy that the benefactors of Highguard who attend Anvil would seek out those who participated and reward them personally for their efforts. The Highborn egregores would be able to confirm whether someone had undertaken this action or not, and any unconquered who did would be able to approach the benefactors council with news of their work.

It's impossible to predict all the effects of this, but it would create likely lead to further opportunities once the Highborn had made contact with the Thule's former slaves. However the Dragons have been very clear that will not tolerate Imperial interference in their nation. At first, it would be very unlikely they would notice the actions of the Highborn but it is inevitable that they would eventually learn of it. This is likely to make them very angry... but while the peace treaty with the Thule specifies that raiding will not take place, there is no definition of raiding that includes "providing much needed food, clothing, and literacy for free."

Konstantin Rabovich Bolotnikov has offered an alternate mandate, using the Partners of Greatness power, to the Varushkan National Assembly.

The proud eagle watches every citizen swear to uphold our Empire's laws, while the vigilant goose alerts others to the danger of oathbreakers. We send {named priest} with 75 doses of liao to warn Varushka that Highguard risks violating the Thule peace treaty by sending military captains and their units into Thule land. Any Highborn soldier travelling north should be turned back with a drink for the road; the wardens will deal with those who to continue on.

Synod Mandate, Varushkan National Assembly

If this mandate is enacted it will prevent the Highborn talking to the Thule residing in Karsk and Ossium. It would not prevent the Highborn from talking to the Thule of Miechernya as they are able to reach that region through Skarsind. It would definitely result in fighting between Varushkans and Highborn in Ossium and Karsk.

Tolerance and Acceptance

  • This mandate has continued to erode traditional Varushkan suspicion of orcs

Traditionally Varushka has had poor relations with orcs of all walks of life. Although every nation in the Empire save the Brass Coast employed slaves, they are the nation most associated in the popular consciousness with the enslavement of the orcs. The Orc Rebellion began here; the recently recognised exemplar of Ambition Thrace was a Varushkan slave. The Varushkans were the first people forced to confront the necessity of using their armies against the escaped orcs, and the last to accept the decision of Emperor Ahraz to recognise them as a people in their own right.

It has been barely two generations since the end of the orc rebellion, and for a long time there were people in the nation who blamed their Imperial allies for disrupting the status quo. Times change, though sometimes they change slowly. The undercurrent of bigotry against orcs still lurks in some dark corners of some dark hearts in the nation, but this most recent mandate has brought home the fact that especially among the younger generation, the orcs are just another group of people. The Imperial Orcs are just another nation. The Thule are disliked because they hold land some Varushkans consider theirs, not because they are orcs. The National Assembly has been at the forefront of attacking the prejudice against orcs for some time now, and it seems they will continue to do so. Yet it is also becoming clear that open bigotry against orcs is no longer acceptable in the broader culture of Varushka.


The Imperial Senate voted to construct the High Path during the Summer Solstice 385YE and work was completed shortly before the Autumn Equinox of the same year. The custodian of the Gift of the Dwindling Star will be able to trade for additional rings of ilium after the Autumn Equinox 385YE.