Bloodright : Rise of the Border Princes
The Keep on the Borderlands
Frandor’s Keep sits on Prying Eye Island, perched on the brink of the Tamara Falls and dwarfed by the towering walls of Hell’s Throat flanking either side. Even the most travelled and jaded observer can’t help but be impressed when first laying eyes on the site.
As the famous Coranik historian Jamar penned nearly a decade ago, “It is to me like a pearl nestled in the putrid flesh of a black clam. Order among calamity. Refuge in a land fraught with peril. A glimmer of hope for the traveller who foolishly ventured into this accursed country, that he might not die for his mistake.” Not that the keep is the lap of luxury, of course. It is a gray, ancient structure with crowded streets and shrouded with an aura of gloom and where day-to-day life is difficult, at best. So why build here?
Frandor’s Keep is first and foremost a military defensive work. Its primary purpose is to guard the maw of Hell’s Throat – the historical invasion route of both the Tauri and their Orkan and Goblin subjects, into the human settlements of the Border Kingdoms at the northern slopes of the Beast Shards.
Like most military camps, The Keep has attracted civilians and hangers-on – skilled craftsmen, merchants, bounty hunters and others looking to fill the various niches created by soldiers (with money to spend) living on the fringes of civilization.
When gold (and later silver) was discovered in the region, even more people began to filter into Hell’s Throat. There were those lured by the false promise of easy riches and thoughts of “plucking” precious nuggets from the ground, and those who had other ideas about how to get their hands on these same riches, either honestly or taking it through stealth or force.
The end result was that the role of The Keep slowly changed. With gold and silver moving through the settlement, it became a minor trade post, something which did not escape the notice of the Lord of Sabre River, Lord Sandus Rainford who suddenly saw the unwelcome settlement as more than a burden. Where once the chore of safe-guarding the passes into the Border Kingdoms had been both a duty and a burden, it had now become an asset in his mind. He even moved his family from the relative safety of the town of Sabre River to the remote fortress in order to personally ensure he got his stake in the action (especially since the garrison was known for being notoriously corrupt).
The influx of more souls into the Keep taxed its resources and placed increased pressure on the guards, who are not only charged with protecting the passes into the Border Kingdoms, but protecting its civilian merchants, prospectors and craftsmen that gravitated into the region. This has proven less than easy, especially considering the area around the Keep is infested with humanoid races like goblins, kobolds, hobgoblins and orcs, preying on anyone foolish enough to move outside The Keep’s zone of control.
Civilian casualties (especially prospectors working the slopes and tributaries) and loss of goods and supplies along the Borderland Road became so endemic that Lord Sandus Rainford was forced to reinvest his silvers – giving bounty for the severed heads of any creature deemed posing a threat to The Keep and his Lordship.
Hell’s Throat is a river gorge running some seventeen miles long. For eons, the raging Sabre River sliced through the living rock like a knife as it sought lower ground. From the resulting wounds, gems and flakes of precious metals were freed from their prison of rock and washed downstream. Such finds became known as “The Great Tease”, for its promised source of riches could never be found, hidden along the stone scars. The first humans came to the region seeking these riches, but unfortunately the area was already inhabited.
Orcs, goblins and kobolds had called the slopes of the mountains their home for centuries. They’d been using pick and axe to exploit the resources of the gorge during their occupancy, and to this day, their scattered mine shafts and stone fortresses can be found strewn everywhere. In particular, the gorge held the orcs in its sway with a strong religious reverence that has yet to be understood. The orcs named the gorge Mungra Morgsh, or “Twisted Colon”, but “Hell’s Throat” became popular among the humans, due to the first words of the historian Jamar upon seeing the gorge; “All things evil and vile spew forth from its yawning maw…”.
Constant streams of orcs travelled down the valley from their lairs in the Trackless Heights of The Beast Shards and funneled north into the Border Kingdoms plundering and keeping civilization from setting foot in the region. Imperial Legions were dispatched, but could never keep the hordes at bay in any permanent way, and after several decades of constant attrition, it was decided to build first one fort at Sabre River, and eventually the fort at The Keep.
Some historians believe the overgrown ruins of an ancient fortress existed on Prying Eye Island long before the orcs first moved into the area. Indeed, during the Coranik Empire’s initial construction of the Keep give few clues about any such constructions, but it is known that rubble from some existing structures were used in its construction, or that an existing fortress was reshaped to suit the Imperial architects that established their presence here.
For certain, some sort of walled enclosure had been constructed by the orcs prior to this event, and their burial mounds were located on the slopes surrounding the fort, with the highest point of the island now holds the “Upper Bailey”. Stone for the fortress was also quarried out of a fine stonepit in the mountain face just east of the island, and is the current site of “Quarrytown”. An observant eye can discern the carvings of “Old Grim Eye”, an orcish warchief whose visage is found here and there above the doorways and gates in bas relief. His true name and deeds are lost to antiquity.
When the Coranik Empire moved into Hell’s Throat, the island and its ruins made a logical choice for the Keep, to plug the troublesome invasion route. A relatively small garrison could easily defend the position and the inexhaustible supply of water made siegework difficult.
Work began in the spring of TR 776. Initially, the Keep consisted only of the Inner Fortress with a walled enclosure (basically the current Upper Bailey and the Offices of the Crown). The skirting walls were raised around the orcish burial mounds (though initial engineers had no idea what the mounds were for), and the interior was back-filled with rubble and earth, bringing the ground to its present height.
The fact that the work was done through dwarven labourers is, today, without question – no other race could have built such a strong fortification in such an isolated position. Aside from wooden structures, nearly every other structure dates to this initial construction. The dwarves had a talent for clever stonework is also evident throughout, usually in the form of secret doors in some chambers. Detectable only by expert dungeon explorers, secret chambers and passages are known to exist beneath The Keep and are believed to yet be found and opened.
During construction, a small village made up of laborers, hangers-on and soldiers rose up at the foot of The Keep (location of the present Middle Bailey). This area was walled in and brought into The Keep proper after the village was razed to the ground during an orc attack in TR 878. The Lower Bailey and __Outer Bailey_ were added in TR 781 and TR 782 respectively, to bolster The Keep’s defenses. During the years of construction, The Keep came under constant assault, but its superior position in the gorge allowed them a great measure of protection, despite constant and increasingly severe attacks by the orc hordes. Unwilling to be deterred, The Keep was completed, and for years the orcs raided and attacked the defenses of the Imperial Legion in shockingly suicidal assaults.
The Keep has only fallen once. In TR 962, at the height of the Beast Wars, under the command of the visionary leader Broken Sabre Tusk, the Tauri with their orcish minions took The Keep and murdered everyone inside. They dammed the Sabre River just upstream of The Keep and used the dry river bed to assault the north walls. They managed to occupy the area outside the walls, razing the buildings outside, and after a three-day siege managed to breech the Outer Bailey gates and into the Middle Bailey. The Middle Bailey was ransacked, and the Upper Bailey was burned. No one knows how long they might have occupied The Keep, for their ranks were decimated shortly thereafter by a virulent plague known as “The Crimson Pox”.
When the Empire again sent forces to occupy the area, General Garnet was surprised to find the orcish minions of the Tauri had been digging up the grounds in and around the Keep_, as though they were looking for something. There were numerous bone heaps formed of the carcasses of the Keep’s former inhabitants. These were gathered together and buried under the present site of the Memorial Shrine, now a desecrated shrine to the Raven Queen.
General Garnet implemented various changes to the Keep and its defenses though its layout remained virtually the same. He added towers to the northern portions (formerly thought unassailable), and then turned over control to the hands of The Lordship of Sabre River, who was pledged to support and man the fortress on behalf of the rest of the Empire.
The following decades were eerily quiet with few raids of any great size; it was as though the orcs had simply vanished. In 1037 TR, a number of orc tribes by-passed The Keep through some means, and assaulted the northern villages of Yew and Sabre River. Though both villages survived the raid, leaving large numbers of their tribals behind, and once more, large-scale invasions were unknown until recently.
When The Shatter occurred (TR 1021) control of the fortress fell completely into the hands of the Lords of Sabre River, and it became a financial drain, though a needed one. The main city of the nearby Land of the Two Princes, Brightwater – City of Coins often “tithes” coin to the coffers of the Lordship, for keeping the mountain tribes and monsters at bay. Also, supplies and arms are often sold at a discount from the realm of Westwind away to the east, across the Trackless Heights. Occasional trade income, taxes for passage and the local furs and precious metals trade also do much to keep the fortress solvent.
Today, Frandor’s Keep continues its one stated purpose; to guard the infamous mountain pass and negate its use as an invasion route by the hordes of Tauri and their minions can induce on the Border Lands. Holding this lonely vigil, once the express duty of the Lord of Sabre River, Lord Sandus Rainford, it is no surprise the strategically positioned fortress has only fallen once during its centuries-long history.
Over the years, various military engineers stationed at the fortress could not resist the temptation, and have left their thumbprint on things. As a result, The Keep has undergone a number of changes over the years. Some were upgrades and improvements; others are best forgotten.